My Top 10 Albums of 2016


*taps the mic*

This thing still work?

Hi! Yeah, I exist. It’s been a busy year.

For one thing, the lovely Ms. Phoebe Lucille was born on June 29th. 🙂

A two year old and a six month old do not make for many leisurely afternoons exploring new music, and besides that, my competing addictions to Forum Mafia and Overwatch have consumed virtually all of what little free time I have. Suffice to say, I’m not exactly well informed on music in 2016. In fact, I can’t name 10 metal albums that came out last year off the top of my head, so my traditional top metal list just isn’t going to happen.

But I’ve been posting some sort of year-end music list every year since 2002, and I’ll be damned if I let ignorance stop me. So here goes nothing:

10. Krallice – Prelapsarian

Prelapsarian was released on December 21st. I didn’t find out about its existence until quite recently, and like every Krallice albums, it’s going to take a good 30 listens to fully appreciate. But after a few early spins I can confidently say that it’s good, and because it’s Krallice, that probably means I’ll be kicking myself half a year from now for not giving it my #1 slot. My initial take-away is that the band has continued to pursue the more mathy/avant-garde approach they took on Ygg Huur in place of the progressive opuses of their first four albums, and while that might not make for the same degree of eternal replay value, they’re still the best in the business at what they do. I could argue that I liked the Hyperion EP released earlier this year more, but that’s hardly fair given the amount of time I’ve had to listen to Prelapsarian. I’m going to err on the side of reason here and say this album will be firmly cemented in my top 10 of 2016 a month from now.

9. Martröð – Transmutation of Wounds

Is it another cop out to include a 16 minute EP in my year end list? Maybe. Whatever the play time limits, Transmutation of Wounds takes me on a pretty diverse and chaotic ride. In a lot of ways it felt like a more complete work to me than many full length black metal albums I heard this year, because it’s always going somewhere. The destinations aren’t particularly inviting, but they’re consistently fascinating. A solid debut from a band that could really kill it if they put together a full length album.

8. Skáphe – Skáphe²

This one is a brilliantly discordant and meandering take on black metal. It borders on unlistenable for all the right reasons, and leaves me feeling a little sick to my stomach every time I give it a spin. I suppose that doesn’t sound like a compliment, but it’s an artistic accomplishment that really very few bands out there can pull off. I mutually adore and abhor it. On an amusing note, I just realized as I was writing this that the line-up includes members of Misþyrming and Martröð. Misþyrming’s Söngvar elds og óreiðu would have easily made my 2015 list if I hadn’t only discovered it this past January, and I placed Martröð one slot up, so at least my tastes are consistent. <_<

7. Sumac – What One Becomes

I need to get off my ass and buy a physical copy of this album. Post-metal god Aaron Turner finally found a worthy follow-up to Isis when he joined forces in 2015 with Nick Yacyshyn and Brian Cook to create The Deal, a sludgy masterpiece that might be what Isis would have sounded like had they tied a brick to every guitar string. The Deal has been my go-to album for car rides for quite a while now, and it’s hard for me to compare its quality to What One Becomes because I’ve only ever listened to the latter at home. But I’ve heard it enough to know it’s excellent, and it’s only going to keep on growing on me in years to come.

6. Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool

I don’t suppose this needs much explanation. Half a year ago, I might have considered it for my top choice of the year. Sitting here right now, I can’t honest remember any of the songs besides “Burn the Witch” and the absolutely beautiful revision of “True Love Waits” without putting the album on to remind myself. That’s been the simple difference for me between post-Hail to the Thief Radiohead and all that came before. I love it when I’m experiencing it; I can’t really remember it a few weeks removed. But it’s more a testimony to Thom and company’s longevity that the music they released in 2016 still earns an easy placement in my top 10 of the year.

5. Run the Jewels – 3

This is where my list is going to start getting a little unconventional to people who’ve known me for a long time. I was really into Anticon back in the early 2000s (I gave Buck 65’s Secret House Against the World my #1 slot in 2005), but by and large hip hop has remained one of those genres I massively respected but never really got around to expansively engaging. Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly in 2015 hit me hard enough to affect a more lasting change in my listening habits. I listened to more hip hop than metal in 2016. So there’s the preface.

When I say I don’t know hip hop though, I mean it. El-P and Killer Mike were nothing to me but names I’d heard people mention a million times before I picked up this album. I can’t compare this to their past albums. I can’t speak from experience. I can’t even talk about its appeal over time, because this album just dropped on Christmas Eve. But it hit me for all the reasons I was digging Aesop Rock this time 15 years ago, and in a year when hip hop was my go-to genre it was the perfect album to close things out.

4. Danny Brown – Atrocity Exhibition

That was the easy part. Now it gets hard. The rest of these could go in any order. They’re so mutually different that I don’t really know where to begin in ranking them. So I’m going to do the stupid thing and put the album I’m most likely to love longest at the bottom of the pile.

Is this the most intelligent album of 2016? Probably. I don’t have to be well versed in a genre to recognize a piece of art when I see it. Atrocity Exhibition shows extreme attention to lyrical and musical detail in crafting its grim cautionary descent into drug abuse and street violence. Brown pulled together a collection of sounds that projected his vision in astoundingly visual ways. No one should ever realistically be able to rap to this, but he managed to lay his eccentric and expressive voice over top of it anyway. It’s one of those packages that takes extreme care to ensure that it’s barely holding itself together at any given moment. If I was strictly picking the “best” album of 2016, Brown would be my boy, but what good is a year end list if I can’t kick myself for how stupid my ordering was afterwards?

3. Deathspell Omega – The Synarchy of Molten Bones

Besides, metal has always hit closest to home for me. It’s the sound I find easiest to embrace, whatever its abrasiveness, and once again France has served as the source of its finest cuts. For better than a decade, friends whose tastes I trust have been praising Deathspell Omega, but I could never quite catch the hype. That changed this year. Far and away my favorite metal album of 2016, The Synarchy of Molten Bones is a complex and captivating black metal masterpiece that’s really perfectly mixed to bring out the robustness of their sound in a full and fleshy way. The song progression is delightfully abstract without ever teetering into the abyss of wankery. A lot of its success stands on their ability to remain relentlessly aggressive no matter how far they delve into experimentation. Too obscure for me to ever fully wrap my head around, I’ve put it on more than 50 times expecting the sort of bore that excessively abstract metal tends to convey on me, and every time I’m just immediately swept away, not fully cognizant of what my ears are hearing but thoroughly in love. These guys crafted an exceptional album on their own, but they owe their studio staff a lot of respect for delicious production too.

2. Bon Iver – 22, A Million

From here I’ve got to vote with my heart, and that begins with the 34 minute heartbreak that is 22, A Million. This album reminds me more of Lost in Translation than of any particular album. It’s packed with disjointed vignettes that don’t serve an apparent purpose towards progressing the album. They often start or end abruptly. It almost comes off as a compilation of half-finished works that got mashed together in an abbreviated 34 minute package with all the meat left behind, but I think it works well that way. Fleeting moments of digital indie folk that always manage to feel simultaneously depressed and comforting–the end result is something beautiful. I put my kids to sleep with it at night.

1. Chance the Rapper – Coloring Book

I’ve been trying my hardest to overplay this album for ten months now, but it just won’t grow old. I don’t know if past artists have incorporated gospel into hip hop to this extent or not, but if they’re half as effective at it, lead the way. I don’t have to share Chance’s religious beliefs to find this album entirely uplifting from start to finish. It beams positivity from end to end without any of the pop sunshine and flowers that turn me off to the vast majority of “happy” music. Chance is at his best when he’s passionately and arrogantly busting out religious lines (and he kills it just as hard on Kanye’s “Ultralight Beam”, whatever I think of the rest of that album). That’s the focus for the grand bulk of this work. It’s not perfect by a long shot. Where he diverts to more worldly themes, he’s often shallow and cliche. “All Night” for instance is really fun to jam along to but leaves me feeling more than modestly cheated on the lyrical front.

But I don’t really care. I fell in love with the spirituality of this album right from the get-go, and close to a year later it still brightens me up every time I put it on. It won’t go down among my top albums of all time, but it earned its place as my favorite of 2016.

Previous years on Shattered Lens:

2011 / 2012 / 2013 / 2014 / 2015

Previous Entries In The Best of 2016:

  1. TFG’s 2016 Comics Year In Review : Top Tens, Worsts, And Everything In Between
  2. Anime of the Year: 2016
  3. 25 Best, Worst, and Gems I Saw In 2016
  4. 2016 in Review: The Best of SyFy
  5. 2016 in Review: The Best of Lifetime
  6. 2016 in Review: Lisa Picks the 16 Worst Films of 2016!

October Music Series: Dissection – Where Dead Angels Lie


My music series this year fell victim to a game of forum mafia that’s eaten up every ounce of my free time (and a little more I couldn’t really afford to lose <_<) but I wanted to share one last song here before we lay the Halloween season to rest. Dissection are one of the more notorious black metal bands of the 90s, embroiled in murder and occult suicide and all sorts of trouble. Generally, bands in that ballpark produced the more deranged, off-kilter songs that granted 90s black metal such a strong air of the sincerely sinister. But Dissection was a bit different. For all of Jon Nödtveidt's faults, he was a really brilliant songwriter in a surprisingly traditional sense. The band's most famous song–"Where Dead Angels Lie", off Storm of the Light’s Bane (1995)–is a masterful six minute progression of beautiful melodies that would not be out of place on an early In Flames album. (Is it a mere coincidence that the band’s home town of Strömstad is not terribly far north of the melodic death metal capital of the world: Gothenburg, Sweden?) It is sinister in a theatrical sort of way, quite different from the traditional roots of the genre and quite better than the few ‘mainstream’ bm bands, who are generally more willing to take this approach.

Hope you enjoy, and Happy Halloween!

October Music Series: Векша – Царство снега


The short-lived, Yaroslavl-based band Векша (Veksha) offer a look at that strange world of ultra-nationalistic, rabidly pagan Slavic metal that began to emerge shortly after the fall of the Soviet Union. I love the awkward juxtaposition (by 1998 standards) of black metal and this anonymous woman’s clean, almost childish singing in the environment of absolutely rock-bottom recording quality. The aesthetic consequence is spooky–a sort of half-formed ghost of a demo tape that dares you to shut off your speakers and see if it continues to play.

But the appeal that keeps me listening to На пороге ночи (Na Poroge Nochi) might not have been the band’s intent. Believe it or not they actually had a website, on which they greet all Aryan brothers with pastel flowers and rotating heart gifs.

umm…

But creepy by accident is always more effective than creepy by intent, right? The bizarrely pervasive fixation on race throughout a lot of early Slavic pagan metal bands probably has an interesting historical explanation that is well beyond the scope of my knowledge, and the explicitly sinister intent of a few prominent bad apples in that bunch might cast the rest a little out of context, but at any rate it’s another off-kilter factor in rendering Veksha’s lone release just a wee bit disturbing for reasons the band probably never intended. They’ve definitely earned a spot in my Halloween playlist.

True Slavonic Romantic Pagan Metal ?

October Music Series: Falkenbach – Heathen Foray


If there is one artist I have consistently returned to every October for the 15 or so years that I’ve had a clue what I’m talking about, it’s Vratyas Vakyas. I first discovered Falkenbach via Audiogalaxy–a long forgotten site that stood out back in the Napster days for a design which allowed users to easily explore non-mainstream genres. I had never heard anything remotely similar to Falkenbach at the time, and I fell in love with the plodding hymns that seemed to turn black metal on its head and generate a spirit of reverence rather than darkness.

Of course, in hindsight Falkenbach fits into a broader historical progression, but his sound is still entirely unmistakable. Vratyas Vakyas was one of the earliest artists to really latch on to the ‘viking metal’ ideal that Bathory began in the late 80s, before too many stylistic norms were standardized, and the sound he landed on has never ceased to captivate me. “Heathen Foray” is the opening track to his fourth studio album, Heralding – The Fireblade (2005), and it also makes an appearance in somewhat grimmer form on his second album, …Magni blandinn ok megintiri… (1998). How far back the basic idea of the song dates is hard to say; there is a ton of earlier demo material available going as far back as 1989. I could have chosen any of dozens of stand-out songs to showcase here without any reservations, but this one has been speaking to me lately. Enjoy!

October Music Series: Gorgoroth – Procreating Satan


Part of the ‘appeal’ of the second wave of black metal as it manifested in Norway is the feeling that you are listening to a product of truly deranged minds. Granted most of the artists in the scene were fairly normal kids who matured and went on to enjoy long-term musical success, the genre’s focus on the occult, Satanism, and all things traditionally “evil” brought a few real wackos into the fold. Most of them wound up dead and behind bars. Gorgoroth pressed on.

This is a band that continues to project itself as dead-serious Satan-worshiping masochists long after their peers evolved away from the genre’s early image or else dropped sufficient hints to be recast as a sort of warm cuddly metal-spiked parody. Does their sound reflect this? I like to believe it does. “Procreating Satan” is the opening track to Twilight of the Idols, the band’s sixth studio album, released in 2003. It features the most notorious of the many vocalists the band has had over the years: Gaahl.

October Music Series: Veilburner – Scorched Earth Exorcism


Well, I started out this series featuring a couple of songs I’ve been enjoying for the better part of two decades. Here is one I discovered less than a week ago. It’s not too often that music successfully creeps me out these days, but I suppose I should have known I was in for a treat when Veilburner were described to me as a bad acid trip.

Veilburner are a two-piece band out of the Philadelphia area who just released their first album last year. “Scorched Earth Exorcism” appears on their sophomore follow-up, Noumenon, released this July. (I highly recommend picking up a copy on Bandcamp if this sample track intrigues you.)

“Scorched Earth Exorcism” is a great example of this band’s unique, psychedelic mix of death and black metal. It’s some seriously twisted stuff, and nothing on the album better captures the deranged spirit of the season than the melody that takes over this song around the 4 minute mark. I’ve been watching AMC’s The Walking Dead marathon over the past few days, and I seriously had a dream about hunting zombies with this screwed up tune playing in the background. It was disturbing and awesome.