A top-7!? Why the fuck would I only list seven releases from this year you ask? Well, the shameful reason is that I haven't had the time to listen to much new music this year. Work and other minor quibbles (such as life) have effectively gotten in the way. But in my own defense, not many of the bands I listen to have released much new music and even though I'm certain that my list lacks some major releases that I'd probably enjoyed had I heard them, I think it's safe to say that 2016 was nothing compared to 2015, as I still listen regularly to the first 7 of my top-10 list from said year. From this years' list, I can honestly only see myself spinning the first three on a regular basis. Anyway, here's my personal lackluster-list of the dreadful 2016.
7. Dark Tranquillity - Atoma
Style: Melodic death metal
Melodic death metal - I've known you for so many years yet never really cared for you. Well, not really true if you can count At the Gates' monumental "Slaughter of the Soul" into said category. Nevertheless, I've tried to get why people like In Flames but failed, I've always though Soilwork was rubbish and a friend of mine introduced me to Dark Tranquillity in the late 90's. Now while I appreciated the music, it never stuck with me and "Atoma" isn't likely to do so either. But perhaps, just perhaps this album will make me dig deeper into the band's discography. Here's the thing though: DT for me has always been great musicians, interesting and thoughtful lyrics, good artwork, competent vocals (with a sober approach to the dynamics between clean- and growls) and sometimes melodies and hooks in the music that make me raise my eyebrows. The thing is that I never seem to come back to their music. It's honestly a mystery as to why, because just as the case is with Opeth, on the paper I should enjoy the utter fuck out of this band, but I just don't. There's something here that I cannot put my finger on as to why I cannot fall in love with this. Maybe I'm just too old now? Maybe I would have loved this if I actually heard "The Gallery" when it was released in the mid-90's? Hmm.... To be continued...
6. Myrkgrav - Takk og Farvel; Tida er Blitt ei Annan
Style: Black/folk metal
I remember back in 2005, when the one-man project Myrkgrav just had released it's demo and was about to unleash it's first full-length "Trollskau, Skrømt og Kølabrenning". The hype was enormous and you could cut the tension with an average-sized black metal-knife. The debut album was released and my reaction was kinda... "Wow - this is great! Well, this is sorta meh... This is alright. Okay. Where's my beer?" Ten years later, the sophomore fare-well album is released and my reaction is pretty much the same. Sure, the vocals are improved and the overall feel of the compositions also feel more coherent. But the thing is that it has been 10 years and although I still enjoy black/folk metal from time to time, my taste in music has changed and I demand so much more nowadays. Had this been released in the early 00's, I would have loved this album utterly, but now I just feel that it's a competent work that lacks that certain magic that I got from the first albums of Otyg, Lumsk and Ásmegin back in the days. Also, four instrumental tracks is at least five too many IMO.
5. Metallica - Hardwired...to Self-Destruct
Style: Heavy metal
So what can I say that everyone else hasn't already said about the most anticipated metal album of 2016 from the planets' biggest (are they still?) metal band? I can tell you exactly what I feel about each and every song - that's what. The title track could at best be described as boring thrash metal but when James sings the chorus it goes beyond boring and quickly enters the embarrassing territory. But behold (behear?) children! It is by far the worst song off the album and as we enter "Atlas, Rise!" with it's Maidenesqué twin guitar-melodies and mid tempo comfort zone, I feel at home and can relax. "Now that We're Dead" is catchy and leaves a lasting impression even though it's honestly quite dull and almost nursery-rhymelike in it's execution. "Moth Into Flame" could've been the best track on the album due to it's interesting shifts in dynamics and unexpected riffs but those cringe-worthy lyrics cannot be excused. Still, it might be the best song I've heard from Metallica since 1991. "Dream No More" is sort of a mix between "The Thing that Should Not Be", "Harvester of Sorrow" and "Sad But True" - sort of like a combination of the most uninteresting songs from Master, Justice and the Black Album. Though boring, I'd rather listen to this one than the title track but the fact is that Metallica has never been good at making slow, heavy songs interesting and this is no exception. Next up is "Halo On Fire" and while being at least 3 minutes too long, is a competent semi-ballad with some interesting changes and catchy melodies. "Confusion" is a mish-mash of ideas that really shouldn't work on paper but it somehow does. Much of this has to do with some of the best Hetfield-riffs I've heard since 1988. The chorus drags things down but the song never becomes boring and it's one of my favourites on the album. "ManUnkind" is sort of the opposite, a boring rock n' roll-song with a chorus that's gets stuck on one's brain while still being annoying as fuck - impressive! Next up is "Here Comes Revenge" that easily has the best of the videos to any of the songs on the album. Musically, it has some interesting ideas combined with some really dreadful ones. With it's 7.17 minutes in running time, I feel that it could have been a great song with some editing (which can be said about many of these songs). Now it's just good. "Am I Savage?" is the song that I keep forgetting about and there's probably a good reason for that. It's the dullest of mid-tempo-dull I've heard in a long time. It's 6.29 and that's about 4 minutes too long. Now everyone knows that "Murder One" is the tribute to the late god that is Lemmy and lyrically it doesn't try to hide anything. Musically, it has nothing to do with Motörhead though and my initial reaction was a sound "meh...". But for some damn reason, this is the only song on the entire album that actually grew on me. Most of the other songs I could find something really cool or interesting immideatly but this one was just a huge "meh..." and I thought it was a missed opportunity. I don't know what happened with this song, why it grew so much on me, only to become one of my favourites. The closing track "Spit Out the Bone" seems to be everyone's favourite and I too can appreciate the frenzied thrash metal with great dynamics and melodies that it in fact is. But I have to say that it's 7.09 minutes could have been trimmed by one or two minutes and the song would have been even better.
All in all, it's a middle of the road-album to say the least. Yes, I find it to be way more interesting than "Death Magnetic" (2008) and the most coherent and interesting thing the band has done since "...And Justice For All" two decades earlier. But in 2016 I listen to more bands than Metallica and Guns N' Roses (which was the case in the late 80's/early 90's) and the competition is way too hard for "Hardwired...to Self-Destruct" to be able to stick out the way this album would've done in... say 1994. I'm surprised I liked the album as much as I did and I must say that I'm interested to hear what these soon-to-be senior citizens will come up with in the future.
4. Aenaon - Hypnosophy
Style: Avantgarde/black metal
The matter of fact that Greece - a completely retard metal country (apart from, let's say Rotting Christ) - could produce something like this is a mystery to me. I read somewhere online that this band was black metal with saxophones and that always makes me interested. Imagine Dødheimsgard without excessive blast-beats, Arcturus' more aggressive parts, a bit of Sigh-insanity combined with coherent and interesting song writing and you're quite close to what Aenaon does. It is progressive and avantgarde black metal with lots of twists and turns, though not as broad as the twists on Arcturus' greatest works in 1997 and 2002. "Hypnosophy" is a great avantgarde/black metal that manges to sound interesting and fresh even though some parts of it aren't thought-through completely. Definitely looking forward to what this band will produce in the future.
3. The Vision Bleak - The Unknown
Style: Gothic metal
I must've been high on crack/cocaine when I placed ze Germans in The Vision Bleak on second place on my top list of 2013 with their previous effort "The Witching Hour". It really hasn't aged well if you know what I mean and today, the only track I sometimes listen to is the catchy "The Wood Hag". "The Unknown" is infinitely better and way more thought-through. Sure, there are some lesser songs here such a "Ancient Heart" and "The Whine of the Cemetary Hound" but that is all made for with exceptional tracks such as the heavy-hitting "From Wolf to Peacock", the catchy (and very Tiamatesqé) "The Kindred of the Sunset", the sombre "Into the Unknown" and the dynamic "The Fragrancy of Soil Unearthed" - hell, even the bonus track "The Ghost in Me" is great! The only problem is, if you've heard The Vision Bleak before - you know exactly what to expect. And the band still doesen't come close to their magnus opus "Set Sail to Mystery" (2010).
2. In the Woods... - Pure
Style: Progressive metal
Before I get on to the actual music, I want to introduce my readers to a time of yore, to a dark mystic past called.... 1996... or was it -97? I really can't recall.
Anyway, back in 1996/1997 there were five different albums from five very different, yet somewhat alike, bands that really got me hooked on the music I listen to today. Four of those were (in no specific order):
My Dying Bride - Turn Loose the Swans (1993)
Therion - Theli (1996)
Tiamat - Wildhoney (1994)
Moonspell - Wolfheart (1995)
All some of the most well-known albums from each band respectively. And then there's was this odd little gem by a virtually unknown band called In the Woods... and their debut album "HEart of the Ages" from 1995. And yes, that's the proper spelling of the album-title since the band couldn't decide if the album should begin with "Heart" or "Art". Neat. The three dots after the band name is also correct. Moving on...
The only track I actually liked from said album was the epic title track and I still stand by that fact. In retrospective, it's kinda weird that only one song could affect me the way it did. A couple of years later, I discovered the band's second album "Omino" (1997) and that album made me a fan big-time. Around that time, the band had released it's third (somewhat hit-and-miss) album "Strange in Stereo" (1999) and of course chose to disband. Just like most bands do when I discover them. Fast-forward ca two decades and the band is back with what feels like the natural continuation of "Omino". It is avantgarde and weird at some points - yet never weird for the sake of being weird like some bands I listen to (hello Solefald!). Most of the times though, it's very atmospheric and almost Pink Floydian in it's execution - whilst never sounding like said band. When reading these lines, I get that that they make no sense, but perhaps that is for the best since ITW... really doesen't make much sense either. All I know is that I love their music and that "Pure" might be the best comeback I've heard in a long while. The title track, "The Recalcitrant Protagonist", "The Cave of Dreams", "Cult of Shining Stars" and "Mystery of the Constellations" are all great tracks on an album that really doesen't have any weak spots at all. Also, that cover-art is ace!
1. Darkthrone - Arctic Thunder
Style: Black/heavy metal
If #2 on this list had the one of the best cover artworks of 2016 - this one might be the absolute worst. It reminds so much of a photo I took with my phone back in 2003. The font of the title is also something that I used to add to my imaginary album-covers I made (don't ask).
Artwork aside, everyone and their mother knows of Darkthrone by now and their status is far beyond legendary in the metal scene. And that's not just the black metal-scene anymore - since the musical transition from black metal into punk/crust/metal territory that began in 2006 with "The Cult is Alive" the band has undergone change after change and their old-school heavy/power metal-album "The Underground Resistance" (2013) was IMO a great album with catchy and fun tunes such as "Valkyrie", "The Ones You Left Behind" and the epic "Leave No Cross Unturned". Now I understand there are many people that shun the band's latter musical pieces and claim that Darkthrone shouldn't be "fun". I get you people as well. I certainly do. I love me some "Under a Funeral Moon" and especially "Panzerfaust" every day as any normal person into black metal. "Transilvanian Hunger" can go and fuck off by the way.
But this is the present after all and while "Arctic Thunder" isn't black metal per se, it might be the closest the band has come to it's classic sound in 10 years or so. To be more precise, it sort of mixes the best pieces of it's predecessor with it's classics. To my ears, this is pure joy to hear and from the opener "Tundra Leach" via the title track to the superb closer "The Wyoming Distance", it is great from start to finish. My only complaint is that there might not be any song that sticks out from the pack. But who can really complain when Gylve and Ted delivers one riff after another that just screams metal? Well, I get it if you complain but I don't. That's the whole ordeal if you know what I mean...