2016 was a weird year of music for me. Normally I spend a ton of time and effort keeping up with the year’s releases and gorging myself on new artists and albums for the year. For the majority of 2016, however, I sepnt a lot of time digging back into the catalogs of artists I’ve been discovering that I totally missed when they were popular the first time – perhaps the best example of this is my newfound love for Piebald’s We Are The Only Friends We Have, Modest Mouse’s Good News For People Who Love Bad News, or YOB’s Atma. As such, I heard a lot of really great albums this year that I didn’t spend a ton of time with throughout the year, and my listening habits were dominated by a select few albums at the top of my list.
Without further adieu, here’s the 25 albums from 2016 that captured my heart and mind the most, starting with numer 25…
At this point, Architects feel like the epitome of “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” in 2016. Their last handful of albums have all been the same specific, mildly unique version of melodic hardcore they’ve become known for since 2008’s Hollow Crown, and it seems to be working well for them. All Our Gods Have Abanoned Us is them keeping that train rolling.
I may not be super old, but as of late it’s been really rare to find an album that really captures my senses in a new way – especially when it comes to metal albums. When you’ve spent the better part of a decade listening to more or less anything and everything you can find, you often feel like you’ve heard it all. Inter Arma feel like a really well-kept secret that really surprised me with Paradise Gallows, an hour and a half long doom metal journey.
Listening to a new Aborted album is always a bit of an adventure considering their lineup is usually very diferent between albums – save for the vocalist. Retrogore makes no changes to this recipe, and Sven de Caluwe’s brainchild delivers a true death metal gem once more.
If you want to talk about best kept secrets in the metal world, Car Bomb have to be near the top of the list in 2016. First formed in 2000, they’ve three albums under their belt. The first two (via Relapse Records) were both very good. Meta, however, might be their magnum opus at this point. It takes the band’s earmarks (disjoint rhythms, frenetic guitar work, and punishing breaks) and pushes them to what feels to be close to their feasible limits. Meta is certainly welcome in the pantheon of angular, heavy records amongst the likes of Meshuggah, The Tony Danza Tapdance Extravaganza, etc.
When Slime Season 3 dropped in the spring of 2016, my thought was basically “huh, this is alright, but doesn’t seem inherently special.” Aside from a couple tracks, I never really felt like revisiting it. I couldn’t help but be curious when JEFFREY dropped to see if it was more of the same, considering it was Young Thug’s third legitimate release of the year. As it turns out, I was pleasantly surprised. It’s not that it’s super different, but it feels like a more refreshed and refined version of what Slime Season 3 was getting at. A solid and cohesive trap record.
Ultimate Annihilation has been a long time coming. I’ve been a fan of this band’s music for a long while since I first heard them on a split with Incendiary and had been awaiting a followup Internal War. Derailed by a really messed up incident back in the summer of 2015, it seemed like this album might never come–but here we are, as pissed as ever.
It’s been a very prolific two years for Future, releasing seven full length albums (one of which made my top 25 last year). Not all of these albums have been great, but EVOL might be the best of all of them. Between DS2 and EVOL most of Future’s output felt a bit more playful and lighthearted, but EVOL marks a return to a more dark sound and themes, which suits my tastes a lot better than the former.
Remember that time that Despised Icon called it quits back in 2010, just a year after Day Of Mourning (still my favorite Despised Icon record)? I was pretty bummed, Despised Icon has long since been one of my favorite deathcore bands, and I was really excited when they announced they were getting the band back together and dropping a new album. From the sound of things, they never missed a beat – Beast picks up right where Day of Mourning left off. Les temps ne changent pas après tout.
I’m sensing a theme… really great deathcore bands from Montreal getting back together, picking up where they left off? Yeah, that’s more or less what happened here. Cast The First Stone is quintessential Ion Dissonance, and might even be yet another step forward for the band, trumping even the incredibly strong Cursed from 2010. Do not miss this band or record if you love heavy, frenetic chaos in musical form.
Big K.R.I.T. has to be one of the more intriguing rappers of the last few years. A guy who is clearly as talented as anyone doing it on the mic right now, he’s been caught in a struggle with his label and other folks jumping on the southern style he’s been known for since busting onto the scene with Live From The Underground in 2012. It was evident in 2014 with some of things surrounding Cadillactica (namely, Krizzle’s verses on “Mt. Olympus”). 12 for 12 is a mixtape that really channels Krizzle’s rage in the last few years, and he lays down 12 tracks of straight fire over a number of successful tracks.
I’m honestly not sure if there’s anyone out there making music that sounds identical to o’brother’s latest album. It’s reminiscent of bands such as The Dear Hunter or Thrice, but those comparisons don’t really feel fair. Endless Light is o’brother’s most etheral and focused effort to date, and can’t hold a candle to seeing it performed live. o’brother a very special band that should be cherished and treasured while they’re still around and in their prime, Endless Light being a nod of confirmation to that notion.
What more can be said about the talent and creativity of Animals As Leaders that hasn’t already been said? I’ve written about this band on numerous occasions and never cease to be amazed by the overwhelming genius of this band. Despite all their records being incredibly similar in aesthetic, they all feel distinctly fresh – each incorporating new little bits and pieces of influence. The Madness of Many is yet another stunning effort from Animals As Leaders in their impressive catalog.
Beyond all other comebacks that might have happened in 2016, nothing has gotten me quite as stoked as Candiria’s. While They Were Sleeping is the first Candiria record since 2009, but it feels like the first since 2004’s What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Stronger considering how quiet the release of Kiss The Lie was. Nu metal, rap metal, hardcore, experimental – whatever you want to label what Candiria does, While They Were Sleeping seems to pull in all the best parts of their history into a surprisingly cohesive and catchy album. Here’s to hoping it’s a sign of things to come.
You can count me amongst the camp of folks who took a wHile to fall in love with 2014’s Oxymoron, despite being a pretty big ScHoolboy Q fan. THis couldn’t be less true of my feelings for His Blank Face LP, in wHich I was already on board witH before it even dropped tHanks to tHe single releases of “Groovy Tony” and “THat Part” (despite Kanye’s terrible verse). THe full record didn’t disappoint, eitHer, with cHoice cuts like “Dope Dealer” and “Ride Out” (featuring Vince Staples).
Every two years, like clockwork, Expire have released albums since 2010 – each one a pretty decent step up from the last. With Regret continues this trend with Expire’s most aggressive effort to date. Normally I’d be really stoked about this, if it weren’t for the news that Expire are calling it quits after a couple goodbye tours. Well, it’s been a fun ride, and With Regret is a hell of a swan song. In their own words, “Pendulum swings, pendulum takes.”
You probably know this band from cell phone footage of their outrageous performances busking in NYC subways. That’s how I found them. After a bunch of searching the internet, I finally found that they’re a real band, and a damn good one at that. Prior to Subway Gawdz most of their music was just sort of cheeky and fun, and felt more gimmicky than anything. Subway Gawdz, however, feels like a more thought-out and premeditated album, and the amount of work that went into this comparably to their other releases really shows. The guest spots on a few of these tracks really keep the album compelling, and help to provide something for everyone. It seems like there’s no ceiling for just how good these guys can get, and I can’t wait for whatever they do next.
How many artists can you think of, rappers especially, that took major strides as an arist in their seventh full length album? I can’t come up any, and I’m sure it’s a short list. The Impossible Kid feels like the first time that Aesop Rock has put an emphasis on storytelling in his music. Perhaps it’s due to the journey he went on that The Impossible Kid is telling, perhaps it’s him just taking the next evolutionary step in his music – whatever the cause, the result is a collection of some of Aesop’s most compelling verses to date over a really great collection of beats (which should be no surprise to any longtime Aesop fans).
Album after album, Meshuggah further cement themselves among the legends of the metal pantheon. Slowly evolving their enigmatic and wildly influential sound over time, The Violent Sleep of Reason feels like the first time that Meshuggah have fallen into their own unique niche and settled there to explore more within their sound than pushing to do things a little differently. Moments of this album harken to some of the more notable parts from albums such as Nothing and Catch ThirtyThree and even more recent releases.
Mention orchestration in the same sentence as death metal and you’re likely to induce a heavy groan from most any metalhead within earshot. Normally a heavily orchestrated metal album invokes the most cheesy possible sound – the orchestration being mostly an afterthought. Hell, this was even sort of the case on the earliest Fleshgod Apocalypse albums. King, however, is a gargantuan step forward for Fleshgod Apocalypse, and is probably the most well-executed symphonic metal album I’ve heard since Septicflesh’s The Great Mass back in 2011. It feels worthy of classical concert halls, certainly an album you shouldn’t miss.
Every Time I Die’s ability to continuously just get better and better over time is truly astounding. Over their first few records we heard them paving their own way, and it’s become clear over the last couple albums that they’ve found their lane. Now we’re hearing them just pulling out all the stops and it couldn’t be working better for them. “When everybody gets a universe / They can do what they want / I tore mine apart.”
Aaron Turner (of Isis fame) has long since been one of the finest purveyors of heavy music to my ears. Sumac is a mild departure from Isis, but still contains Turner’s undeniably heavy guitar work. As unrelenting and punishing as his heaviest work with Old Man Gloom, Sumac is an absolutely sublime listen, and very nicely fills the void Isis left in my heart since disbanding in the summer of 2010.
Comparing any Gojira album to another Gojira album feels like a fool’s errand. Magma adds yet another fantastic album to the very disparate pile of fantastic releases Gojira has put out in their career. Magma feels like Gojira’s most subdued album to date, in in lieu of some of the waning heaviness we’ve gotten an added bit of nuance to the band’s songwriting and production. The inlcusion of more evocative melodies and vocal parts has really emphasized a dimension of Gojira that has only seem flashes since 2008’s The Way of All Flesh, which is the juxtaposition of more clear vocals on top of the monolithic guitar riffs. Throughout Magma we hear a few different takes on this that really separates Magma from the band’s previous releases.
I first learned about Knocked Loose when my pal James sent me a link to their bandcamp page, and I was instantly hooked. Really punishing hardcore bands have really become my jam as of late, and Knocked Loose really burst onto the scene with their debut LP earlier this year. It’s ferocious, it’s spiteful, it’s violent, it’s everything I ever want in a hardcore record.
I feel sort of let down that no one told me about this band when they released Absolution in 2015. The last decade has been really kind to folks who love new bands that harken back to the old sounds of heavy metal, and perhaps none have accomplished this as finely as Khemmis have on Hunted. Thick guitar riffs, grand songwriting, big vocal hooks, a looming sense of dread – Hunted has in spades all the quintessential parts of classic heavy doom metal record. This album certainly feels like an instant classic that will be a part of my rotation for a long time to come.
Once in a great while, a band comes along that makes an album that speaks so deeply and directly with my soul that it feels like it was written for me and me alone. The Dream Is Over has done this more so than any album in recent memory. I remember being sent PUP’s first album from a friend who said “I think you’ll dig this.” I gave it one spin, liked it, and didn’t really revisit it. When I first heard The Dream Is Over, however, I couldn’t stop listening. Since its release, I have probably listened to this album at least once a week, every week. Probably close to twice a week. PUP have struck a perfect balance of raw emotion and restraint that feels very special for such a young band. Succinct, catchy, emotional, just the right amount of polished, nuanced, powerful, etc. There are just so many things that go into how great this album is, and on any given day you can notice some new piece of subtle brilliance packed into this half an hour long album. I really can’t say enough nice things about how great this album is.
So there you have it. My favorites from 2016. What did I miss? What did I love that you didn’t? As always, feel free to get @ me online basically anywhere and let’s chat music!