Well, it is time for some 2016 Top 10 reflections on RockmusicRaiders‘ most coveted findings for the last year. And it might turn out to be a few more than ten, but we will keep the official ranking to this magic number. We will just add a few honorable releases to the list that kinda missed this viking fighting ship. The list is also a reflection on those bands that got us thinking and managed to mess up the peace (of mind) and quiet of the writer supreme on this blog.
And it was a funny year: Seamlessly latching on to 2015, many more shades of black have been covered throughout these 12 months. At times it seemed like there is only black, just to find yourself in progressive country for quite long stretches. The symphonic and operatic divisions did not quite convince this year, albeit there are a few pockets of excellence that showed through the blankets of snow copiously covering the countryside. Then what a year it has been with many great names in music calling it quits last year and a new US president nobody expected to win. But enough of this, let’s start, shall we?
Here are the 2016 Top 10 records:
#10 Van Halst – World of Make Believe
The Canadians from Edmonton project a very serious brand of Gothic Metal onto the fan crowd. Their approach to music is two-pronged: First, they take advantage of the amazing vocal presence of Kami Van Halst, wrapping sturdy metal around her singing prowess. Then, they broach serious subjects of social nature throughout the record. This not only renders it a pleasure to listen to musically, but is also challenging intellectually. And this cannot often be said in metal concoctions, where lyrics often are the most neglected aspect of the production.
#9 Dark Portrait – A Harrowing Atrocity
A lot of Black Metal is often about ritual. This Greek outfit created a very special and captivating brand of Symphonic Black Metal. Mixing epic and operatic melodies with hellish Black Metal tones right down there in the metal abyss. For the purist this may sound like sacrilege, but in the end Dark Portrait have created a great and varied piece of work. Beats burning churches, don’t it? But then, perhaps they still do and we just don’t know about it.
#8 Darkend – The Canticle of Shadows
Here is where the rubber meets the road. Or more, where the dark altar meets the soft, juicy flesh. But for this you need to open yonder dark door. Go ahead: Open it! Then descend into murky depths of the ritual cave where the band beckons you. Offering a brutal, relentless Black Metal mix, Darkend know how to pull you in and not let you go until the last drop of blood has been shed. And the ritual finished to their liking. Now, if you are not an adept of the Black Metal community, DON’T open that door. Alas, maybe you are curious enough to do just that anyway and get a glimpse. I wonder what will happen to you then? I for my part enjoyed this Congressus Cum Daemone.
#7 Sojourner – Empires of Ash
Before you roll your eyes at yet another Atmospheric Black Metal gig, think again. This kiwi band, based in the UK with a Swedish singer has a very special brand of their own to their credit. I particularly enjoyed the way Sojourner use wind instruments. The flutes eerily reminding you of the Lovecraft tales of old do actually mix well with tremolo picking and growls. This delivers a real meaty, yet finely grained tune to you that is a pleasure to behold. This too is Black Metal. And it makes you want to fire up your sorry computer and go a-hunting in the netherworlds of Morrowind.
#6 Overtures – Artifacts
If the artwork and the music are equally well done, all should be fine. Right? Well, for Overtures this surely hits straight home. Their quirky mix of Progressive and Power Metal is just irresistible, even if we had a few issues with the mastering on some tracks. The contents of this disc will get your metal juices flowing for sure. And not let you loose until you consumed every ounce of this metal delight. I can assure you, you will not be bored until the very end. That said, Artifacts is part of an increasingly long line of good to stellar records from all parts of Italy. Tons of activity going on in this corner of the woods.
#5 Fleshgod Apocalypse – King
What a kingly treat! The band served a surprisingly delicious, but very messy baroque battle of the styles this time. All this presented against a grand background of kingly endeavours. The record still manages to put a smile on my face, but boy this is complex. But on the other hand powerful like no other. And remember, some of their brethren just try to beat you into the dust and call this metal. Fleshgod Apocalypse – on the contrary – artfully pull out all the stops and deliver some of their own, hotly spiced pottage to go with their metal. Good quality stuff, from Italy. Straight from the times of the Borgia and the assassins. Just watch your back when listening to this.
#4 SIG:AR:TYR – Northen
This record will just pump up your metal juices once you start listening. It includes everything: From epic and cathedral to red-blooded riffs and soaring solos. This viking longboat of theirs just relentlessly crashes through them stormy waves towards the far shores of modern-day Canada. I have twirled this disc many-a-day and never grow tired of it. This is simply great metal the way they almost don’t make it anymore. Clearly the change from Daemonskald pulling all toxic switches by himself to something resembling a band has been beneficial to say the least. Ways to go, guys.
#3 Huldre – Tusmørke
Now, go ahead and meet me in the forest. Deep down in its yonder green and leafy depths you will find magical ponds where trolls meet and fairies dance. That’s the realm of Huldre and their twilight songs. The band has this knack to produce the perfect balance between modern and archaic instruments and concoct irresistible tunes out of that. The vocalist provides the icing on this folksy tale of theirs with quirky, yet unusual contributions. This gets you a sturdy, but at the same time genuinely delicate Folk Metal brand that I have seldom found so far.
#2 The Reticent – On the Eve of a Goodbye
Never, and I mean never before have I heard such emotion put into a record. The genuine human compassion injected into a true story with a cartload of passion will already qualify this record to give it a listen. On top you will find pretty stellar Progressive Metal on that disc that I have seldom seen topped. The record is like Chateaubriand with loads of Sauce Béarnaise; very heavy, but sinfully good. You should try a slice – or two. And don’t forget the Bordeaux to go with it.
#1 Insomnium – Winter’s Gate
Last year Myrkur‘s M rocketed from zero to top spot in about two milliseconds, usurping Da Numba One with a last minute attack. Now, looking at the progress of things in 2016, Black Metal was a contender, but the North has struck. More precisely the Melodic Death Metal camp. Who would have thought that? The sleepless ones just went ahead and recorded one, single 40-minute monster track. This is usually fraught with danger and a lot of bands shipwrecked on this particular icy cliff. Now, as it turned out, Insomnium made it to a 9/10, which is relatively rare for records on this blog. The disc is simply grand Melodic Death Metal with a flow that I have seldom had the pleasure to listen to so far. The album is a delight and is best consumed in one go. Served ice-cold, on the rocks.
The guys who almost made it into the list:
Abbath – Abbath
It’s not Immortal, but gosh it is awfully close. The crabwalk on the loose again. Or in other words: The soul of the former band on a solo trip, one Olve Eikemo looking for his own without changing the corpse paint that always was his trademark before. Abbath is quite a thunderclap of a début. Not necessarily novelty territory, but nevertheless done sturdily enough to convince and – for sure – to thrive later on.
Darkher – Realms
This is one love/hate relationship I have with this record. And I can’t really explain what fuels it or why on earth Realms should be on this blog at all. There is also the ever looming question, if this piece of work qualifies as metal or not. But in the end, a crisp metal tinge and a highly precise and (very) doom-laden tune carry the flag. Together with the fairy singing style of Ms. Wissenberg, this record exerts a pull that will make you return to the well all over again. Willingly or not will depend on you. Or on the magick spells cast on your mortal soul. Who knows…
NordWitch – Mørk Profeti
Cold shivers down your spine already when the band let’s loose with the first track. The band offers highly seasoned Blackened Death Metal trickling down from Eastern Europe, growls delivered by a female front. NordWitch deliver this very mature down-to-earth style of a very high quality. No doubt when knowing that the band – whilst still young in age – the musicians involved surely are no newbies. This results in a sturdy, very metallic, yet very energetic metal offering that you don’t want to miss.
Todtgelichter – Rooms
The unpredictability of their style, the insane turns the album takes and their aggressive pitch to Progressive Metal really are the allure of Todtgelichter‘s latest. Their artful way to string tracks together is really what struck me the most. Plus the progression towards bedlam as we progress down the track list is amazing. All this creates a real juicy and very complex potpourri of styles and directions that will make you want to continue with the record. Don’t get me wrong, a lot of this is convincing through artful dissonance, but this – too – is their main strength.