It’s a good time to be a metal head. So much great music came out this year.
2016 was the year of change for me. For everyone it seems. Life has a way of coming at you fast just when you seem to get comfortable, and no matter how quick you react, bob, and weave, it WILL knock you down for a while.
It was almost exactly a year ago that my world began to shake and it didn’t slow down again until very recently. Life long changes and adaptations have now been made and I’ve learned a lot about myself during the process.
Despite the many ups and downs, music has always been there to suit every situation. Some folks only listen to the radio. Music is something that’s on in the background. I lean on it heavily for support and I have come to recognize that it is an intrinsic part of my being. It’s a need. It sustains me.
Here’s what maintained my life-force in 2016:
Basement Paintings – Mystic
So these guys from Saskatoon played Halifax’s iconic Gus’ Pub this year and of course I missed them. But, as I hadn’t heard them before, I decided to check out their newest album. Really kicked myself for not going to the show after listening to this album on repeat for days. I’ve always been a big fan of instrumental music. Vocals are not required to weave dense and evocative music that conjures farflung and picturesque mental landscapes. This is a rolling, entwined cruise through many genres.
Learn the “Veda”.
Castle – Welcome to the Graveyard
Another band I got into only after they played Gus’. Damn I was unhappy about missing this show. Such great folks too. When I ordered the CD they contacted me saying that they considered dropping it off in person at my house! That would’ve been a fun surprise. If occult doom rock is your thing, this album will satisfy. They call it witchy thrash and it’s a perfect descriptor.
Love the 70s rock vibe in “Flash of the Pentagram”.
Cobalt – Slow Forever
Cobalt has surely turned a corner here. Charlie Fell’s vocals are perfect. Always loved him in Lord Mantis. He has the jagged, high-pitched tone of anguish to his voice that I crave. Rebirth can be a cool thing. This album is chock full of surprises. Heavy, hooky, bluesy. It ticks all the boxes for me. Iconoclast’s sombre soundtrack to Ernest Hemingway’s famous Nobel banquet speech on writers and writing is perfect.
“He will endure or be forgotten”
Coldworld – Autumn
There is nothing quite like Coldworld’s Melancholie2 on a winter night. That album has such a gelid feel. Eight years later, the new release maintains that brisk coolness, but with a brighter tone. Like a clear, shimmering verglas coating each note.
There is a certain beauty in melancholy; a satisfaction with the state of sadness. This is a sad album punctuated by isolated points of optimism. It’s a fantastic follow-up to one of metal-dom’s cherished albums.
See what I mean here:
Convulsing – Errata
Ever hear something so heavy you can only muster up some form of visceral reaction? Like responding to a punch in the stomach. Oof! What the. . . ? That is Convulsing’s Errata. Caustic, blackened, and dreadful. I don’t generally like death metal but this is my kinda ugly.
Cult of Luna & Julie Christmas – Mariner
Julie’s collaboration with Cult of Luna is one of my favourite things from 2016. She is an absolute treasure. Her unmistakable voice meshes incredibly well with CoL’s dense foundation. Easily their finest release in years. Her vocals on “The Wreck of S.S. Needle” blow me away. Can’t stop listening to it.
“Put me down where I can see you run”
Forteresse – Thèmes pour la Rébellion
Québec has long been a hot bed for rebellious music and the metal noir Québécois scene is no different. This martial soundtrack stokes the rebellion, rouses the heart, narrates the destruction, and rings of triumph.
French Canada is an integral part of this great nation. I can’t imagine my country without the strong foundation that is Québec so, while I don’t agree with the separatist cause, this album often has me singing out “Par la bouche de mes canons!”.
Many folks will try and give examples of better black metal that came out this year but I just say, nope, not this good.
Like a Motorcycle – High Hopes
Halifax punk masters Like A Motorcycle put out a really fun full-length debut album this year. High Hopes is crammed with hooks, big power chords, and lots to sing along with. This is a very catchy record and one of my favourite local releases.
And oh hell no, don’t come between them and beer. They’ll MESS YOU UP.
Mantar – Ode to a Flame
The heavy these two men create is incredible. Ode To a Flame is like an artillery barrage and tracks like “Era Borealis” get your fist pumping in the air. The tight chemistry between these two guys is so evident in this album. They mesh effortlessly and we all reap the benefit.
Murg – Gudatall
Murg kills it again with Gudatall. These guys have that classic 2nd wave sound that’s grisly and raw. This was a very late 2016 release so it was almost missed. Well worth checking out if you like your black metal grim.
Ending 2016 with this black metal triumph. Is it Gudatall? You betcha. Ya ok. I’ll show myself out.
Nadja – Sv
My daughter and I had the great opportunity to experience the thunderous, resonating music of Nadja this year in Halifax, as part of the OBEY Convention. The intimate venue of the Fort Massey gothic church sanctuary and its clear acoustics amplified the already powerful music.
Sv is a repetitive, sensory focusing, field of pulsing energy that calms and realigns the mind. This year has been an awful one for me. Seems to have been the case with a lot of people. Adversity is a strengthening teacher. I’m not a very spiritual guy, but learning to become better able to spend time with my own thoughts has been incredibly beneficial. Music is my religion. Put on a set of headphones and listen intently to this album and you’ll see what I mean. Focus on the enveloping weight of the music as it strips away your other sensory inputs. Step back and see your troublesome thoughts bubble up and disappear. It’s a strange and calming introspective experience. Like an aural flotation tank.
Your meditation awaits.
Oathbreaker – Rheia
I’m sure that this is no surprise. Oathbreaker has been a favourite of mine for some time. The whole Church of Ra scene is pretty intense but holy fuck, this is gamechanging. Caro’s vocals are always so dynamic, full of rage, desire, power, intensity, and soft caress. And those drums by Ivo Debrabandere. He is likely the reason I enjoy this band so much. Unfortunately he left (amicably) shortly after this release.
This emotional and sensual video for “Immortals” is amazing.
Pick it up here https://oathbreakerband.bandcamp.com/album/rheia
Unreqvited – Disquiet
Unreqvited is an expressive and melancholic black metal project from Ontario, but this album really blurs those lines with uplifting major key sequences that are really beautiful. Those despairing vocals in “Maydena” are exactly what I like.
Weak Wrists – ST
Weak Wrists’ debut full length is controlled, emotional, and scorching. Thirteen short tracks full of punk, hardcore, grind, and crust. Love this sound.
Whoa, lean in to this one.
Yellow Eyes – Sick in Bloom
The call of peepers on a warm spring night with the windows open is one of my favourite experiences. I could sit and listen for hours. I am lucky enough to live near wetlands where this is an annual occurrence. To me, it is one of those early and grounding exposures to the natural world that we will always carry with us.
Their gentle chorus book-ends Sick With Bloom, but don’t let that fool you. The album builds in a carefully crafted, layered black metal intensity to a furious and, at times ghostly, enmity.
Technically this came out last year, but I missed it so now it’s on this list. So what. There are no rules here.
Get “Sick with Bloom”.
Ten more releases that caught my attention this year include:
Despite the prevailing shittiness of 2016, it was a pretty great year for music and full of wonderful people. Hope you find something you like in here. See you all in 2017. ~Bruce Fraser