2016 – Top 20 Albums

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For the top 20 demos and EPs check here


20. Bölzer – Hero

Probably this year’s most controversial and loved-to-be-hated release, “Hero” is a masterpiece that grows with each listen, almost justifies the whole hype around the Swiss’ name. Yes, the vocals need some time to be digested, especially if someone has no contact with the deathrock scene, but the songwriting is excellent, as is the concept, and though not as outwardly impressive as “Aura” was, “Hero” is a multi-layered monstrosity, much deeper than the excellent and much-revered EP.


19. Skáphe – Skáphe²

Skáphe²” is a beautiful beast of an album. It stands way beyond and above the snoring boredom that characterizes most of the albums of this chaotic type, blazing as dark incense inside the listener’s mind during its 35 minutes of duration, guiding the audience in a grotesque journey through occult lands of non-Euclidean geometry. It is the audio equivalent of fever mentality, and thus it certainly is not an easy album to tackle, yet it rewards with an experience that keeps calling the listener back to it, more so because this experience is inaccessible outside the record per se. An excellent specimen of contemporary black metal. Full review here.


18. Panphage – Drengskapr

Not much to say about this Swede, those who followed the blog last year may remember my love for his works. Continuing on the relentless path of folk-influenced frigid black metal riffs, a la early Taake and other mid/late ’90s artists, with vocals that are immensely satisfying, and excellent song-writing skills, Panphage has been established as one of the best thing to come out of Scandinavia during the past years. Nordic black metal of the highest quality.


17. Antaeus – Condemnation

“Condemnation” is the comeback that we would have expected if we had anticipated a reanimation of Antaeus. It maybe too close to what we expected, the French may well have pulled it off quite safely, they were perhaps never interested in diversity. The thing is, that listening to this album, one thinks that the band had pressed “Pause” for ten years, and as soon as “Continue” was triggered they kept playing like no time passed – with just a slightly more robust production. The album is not innovative, the tracks may have similarities, yet “Condemnation” forces you to furiously reach for invisible oranges throughout its duration – thus fulfilling excellently its unholy role. Full review here.


16. Battle Dagorath – I – Dark Dragons Of The Cosmos

The cosmic black metal release of the year unites the ungodly dark spaces of Darkspace with the nocturnal atmosphere of early Emperor, not denying itself a plunge in some well structured melody (usually in the form of guitar leads). Cold, majestic, and just as extravagant as is necessary, Battle Dagorath’s fourth album is what traditional black metal is all about – an extraordinary work.


15. Arizmenda – Beneath This Reality Of Flesh

Crepusculo Negro’s production was quite scarce this year, with only two full-lengths coming out, the Shataan one and Arizmenda’s “Beneath This Reality Of Flesh” (edit: apparently there is another Arizmenda full-length, “Despairs Depths Descended,” out on December 18th via Androgony Whore records) being the only new things released. Arizmenda continue to trot upon a path of maniacal, thin guitared black metal, with unconventional compositional structure and surpringly catchy leads. An overdose of aggressive and weird guitar-work, Arizmenda remain the most extreme among Crepusculo’s roster.


14. Aenaon – Hypnosophy

Aenaon, as Hail Spirit Noir, succeed in presenting three out of three great albums, seemingly effortlessly, a thing to be admired, but also leading to puzzlement as far as what kind of improvement can we expect in the future. “Hypnosophy” is a kaleidoscope wandering through a never-ending celebration, which, despite the use of instruments unorthodox as far as black metal is concerned (apart from the saxophone there are also string ones like bouzouki and shitar – building up to a kind of ethnic essence in parts), has not severed its ties with the mothership genre – the album’s beginning and ending clearly state so. Full review here.


13. Tardigrada – Emotionale Odnis

Expansive, passionate, archaic, like a wraith gliding over castle ruins, Tardigrada’s debut was among the things that I highly anticipated since their 2012 demo (review here), and thankfully it did not disappoint me at the least. This is a case study on how black metal can be romantic – drawing upon the artistic and philosophic movement meaning of the word obviously, not its contemporary and vernacular one. Soaring guitars, a grandly thin production, this is how nostalgic atmospheric black metal is done.


12. Naðra – Allir Vegir til Glotunar

Passionate, utterly frigid, melodic and imbued with the pagan spirit of a decade gone by, “ Allir vegir til glötunar” is an ode to the early Icelandic black metal scene, boasting some of the best riffing that can be traced back to contemporary Iceland (and not only). I had written in the review that it was an early yet strong contestant for this year’s end list, and I have not changed my mind since then. Better than the 95% of the black metal torrent that is coming from this particular land during recent years. Full review here.


11. A Diadem of Dead Stars – Kingdoms Bathed In Golden Light

Who would expect that what Wolves In The Throne Room sowed would find nurturing land near the Pagasetic Gulf of Greece? However, it seems that the Volos-based Pilgrim manages to shine with his sophomore album in a sub-scene that seems to be plagued by lukewarm clones of 2-3 archetypal bands. Sporting a genuine knack for composition excellence and an atmosphere that is more reminiscent of Northern vastness rather than Greek countryside, the album’s five tracks are the best species of Cascadian black metal for 2016.


10. Virus – Memento Collider

The album is a mesmerizing, flowing-yet-solid whole, which unfolds into labyrinthine tracks of jazz attitude, tracks that dissolve and restructure themselves with a protean ease and grace. This fluctuating character does not make the album tiresome, as would be the case in lesser bands, but on the contrary captivates its listener with an almost summery felicity – quite a paradox if you think of its density and diversity. The keys to the album’s brilliance seem to be the absence of solemnity (pretentious or otherwise), Czral’s compositional genius, and the amazing chemistry between the band’s members. The result is something oscillating between the liquid and solid states of being, a physical paradox brought to life before the listener. Time will show if this is the band’s greatest moment. Until then, Memento Collider is certainly Virus’s most ample and feel-good creation. Full review here.


9. Oranssi Pazuzu – Värähtelijä

Steeped in kraut rock and psychedelia, yet never straying from the extreme metal path, “Värähtelijä” functions as a thick hallucinatory fog, with high points its ominous rhythms, the obsessive jazz passes and the keyboard “infinite space” glamour. Each listening session is like wandering in an astral museum of curiosities, with distorting mirrors in each corridor. With their latest and maybe best album to date, Oranssi Pazuzu may well be truly expanding extreme metal boundaries. Full review (in Greek) here.


8. Book Of Sand – Occult Anarchist Propaganda

Though unequivocally anarchistic, Book of Sand retains in its latest opus that spark that is missing from most of the artists of the RABM sub-genre: ominousness; the “occult” in the album title is not just décor left over from the genre conventions. Herein lies atmosphere that many, so-called occult bands would love to permeate their works. This is an album that one can listen to and feel the blood falling upon the grains of sand as the ritual is performed. This is black metal done right, dark, slithering, raw, menacing, otherworldly. Full review here.


7. Hail Spirit Noir – Mayhem In Blue

Three out of three for Thessaloniki’s avant-garde black metallers, which remain at the forefront of the Greek (and why not, international) extreme/bizarre scene. Despite the increase of the keyboard role and the long dives in the ’70s landscape, “Mayhem In Blue’s” heart remains dark; here lies a shade so deep that not even the hand of God can extirpate. Oh, and “Lost In Satan’s Charms” is easily among the top ten tracks of 2016. Full review (in Greek) here.


6. Agatus – The Eternalist

As with Zemial, Agatus continue to disregard any solid boundaries between musical genres, focusing on converging all their music influences on a diamond of untarnished epic/lyrical metal, straight out of the ’80s forge, with a pinch of winks towards their extreme past. This is what “complete, whole metal album” means. This is heavy metal at its finest.


5. Cultes des Ghoules – Coven, or Evil Ways Instead of Love

The Polish had ravaged the whole scene with 2013’s Henbane, the epitome of dark medieval folk witchcraft. Last year’s “The Rise Of Lucifer” EP was somewhat underwhelming, but enter this autumn’s “Coven,” a magnificently ambitious double record, drawing upon the spirit of Master’s Hammer “The Jilemnice Occultist,” yet retaining the band’s characteristic crunchy medieval sound. As for the concept, it is a grand occult play, with a medieval setting, centering on witchcraft obviously. The sort of witchcraft that is inscribed with dark blood upon yellowed pages and human skin. This band may well be the single more graphically black metal entity in the world right now.


4. ΟΔΟΣ 55 – ΟΔΟΣ 55

In their sophomore full-length, Athens’ ΟΔΟΣ 55 build upon the synthwave motif of their past releases, spreading through seven solid rays/tracks a bionic view towards contemporary society. Hypnotic, ravenous, revolutionary music to dance to, their material easily dissolves any thoughts about the staleness of the resurrected ’80s post-punk/new wave Greek scene, and gazes at the present with confidence, a true child of recent times and social conditions. Full review (in Greek) here.


3. Candelabrum – Necrotelepathy

There is black fire burning in the subterranean places of Portugal during the past years. Last year it was Black Cilice (which most probably shares members with Candelabrum), this year’s Iberian peninsula revelation is Candelabrum’s debut, “Necrotelepathy,” which seethes with spectral ritualistic high-pitched black metal of the highest hypnotic atmosphere. This is how I envision the kind of black metal that is to be heard while strolling among bones and sunless underground places, while ghosts wail all around, and deathless occultists stir in their dusty graves.


2. Eternal Champion – The Armor Of Ire

The extraordinary thing with “The Armor Of Ire” is its resistance towards characterizing it as outdated, despite its deep roots towards the past, despite its non-originality. Eternal Champion presented us with an album of timeless epic heavy metal, which continues on the excellent tradition of recent years. Lyrical, combative, rough, magical, the Americans’ debut radiates with an effortless sincerity and momentum, and contains several tracks that are already lying side by side with genre hymns upon the epic pantheon. Full review (in Greek) here.


1.Ψ.Χ – Το Φως Το Αληθινό

It was several years before the spectres behind Ψ.Χ. decided to gather the tracks haunting the internet since 2008, to add a bunch of new ones, and “release” the whole in a quite unconventional way (namely they sent a CD-r copy of it to the Greek METAL HAMMER magazine, addressed to a particular editor, urging him to spread it in whatever way he chooses – you can find the album here, along with the booklet). The result is an unbelievably black creation, its spirit closer to the menacing spectrum of black metal than any other release in quite a long time. Full of ravishing grimness (and with a twist before the end), its breath is seemingly coming from a demented interpretation of a tuberculous “De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas.” Welcome (back) Menace to Black Metal (once more), gliding on nightwings to snuff out the candles, to be immersed in Tradition, making the hearths cough like sickness incarnate. Full review (in Greek) here.

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Book Of Sand – Occult Anarchist Propaganda (Mouthbreather Records)

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I am somewhat torn over anarchistic black metal. Though I find much common ground between the political ideas of most such groups and my own, I consider the overall musical essence of this particular subgenre scene usually underwhelming. I think that the problem lies both with the music per se (despite the fact that there are some semi-exceptions, as certain Panopticon and Iskra songs, I can not bring my self to whole-heartedly recommend the totality of an album, even from one of the two aforementioned bands) and with the “grounding” of these bands’ art to the contemporary, the vernacular, the everyday, through the use of blatant political themes in song lyrics and/or titles. Black metal for me is first and foremost associated with other-worldliness; an aura of obscure, intangible mystique, eldritch past and secrets unnameable is at its aesthetic core. Thus, replacing arcane obscurity or imaginative past reminiscence with down-to-earth contemporary issues results in a grounded, and not so phantasmagorical art form, hovering above and beyond the mundane. That’s why I was pretty surprised when I discovered Book Of Sand, a US black metal act from Minneapolis, which, though unequivocally anarchistic, retains in its latest opus that spark that is missing from most of the artists of this particular sub-genre: ominousness; the “occult” in the album title is not just décor left over from the genre conventions.

Agile guitar movement, circular, with just-the-right-echo riffs, which are steeped both in the second wave majesty, as well as the heavy tradition, as it was perfectly distilled by Negative Plane. The band is not afraid of romanticism melodies, and in moments (like in a large part of “Crumbling Palaces”) it is almost reminiscent of metal noir quebecois, as far as decadent past epicness is concerned. Throughout the album the guitar is by far the dominant entity (though listen to the bass pulses on “A Prayer Of Darkness”), elegantly charting the elaborate waters of composition through strokes of well-versed-in-the-masters genius. This elegance, when coupled with riff content dark as an-attic-by-midnight, creates the core black metal atmosphere – that of ominous, occult, pavilions.

There are certain shortcomings. The riffs, though highly inspired, are perchance repeated a bit too much, struggling variation-wise; some songs could even be considered as improvisation exercises upon a certain theme; vocals are of a run-of-the-mill quality, though certainly not annoying. Yet they all tend to be minor flaws, easily cast aside by the album’s sheer nefarious mane. Herein lies atmosphere that many, so-called occult bands would love to permeate their works. This is an album that one can listen to and feel the blood falling upon the grains of sand as the ritual is performed. This is black metal done right, dark, slithering, raw, menacing, otherworldly.