2016 – Top 20 Albums

indstries

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.

Advertisements

2015 – Demo, EP, and Split releases Top-10

indstries

Manii – Skuggeheimen

This one is “outside” the list, since it does not contain any new material, but rather just a re-recording of two tracks from the second and third Manes demos (for those not familiar with Manii, they are -since 2011- the old-school aspect of Manes), which are however still throbbing with perfection. Less eerie, the guitar perhaps a tad more highlighted than in the original versions, yet carrying this unearthly wind that is associated with Manes’ demo years.

10. Nécropole – Ostara (Demo)

A French trio delivering old-school black metal via the Finnish vein (namely the Sargeist, Satanic Warmaster style – melodic guitars sprinkled with a bit of fuzziness in the production, into a channel of passionate impetuosity), in this, their second demo. Not much diversity mood-wise, this is a monolithic cascade streaming rapidly through frozen landscapes.

9. Ithaqua – Initiation To Obscure Mysteries (Demo)

A demo release writhing with nostalgia for the early Greek black metal scene. Perhaps a bit lacking in the originality department, though I suspect that this was something done on purpose. Old Rotting Christ (“Passage To Arcturo” era) worship more or less. Highly enjoyable. Full review here.

8. Loputon Suo – S-T (Demo)

An essentially melodic black metal discographic debut for those Finns, though the somewhat raw production may well obfuscate the fact upon first listen. The guitar ideas in this short (exactly 12 minutes) demo are quite memorable, reminiscent of the flawing, mountainous mentality of both Bolzer and The Ruins of Beverast; dark majesty sums it up quite nicely as far as terms are considered.

7. Cosmic Church – Vigilia (EP)

The Finnish masters of atmospheric, landscape-y black metal returned this year with both a 3-way split (“Beyond The Mirror Of Worlds” with Blood Red Fog and Shroud of Satan) and the “Vigilia” ep. In the 33 minutes of this release, Luxixul Sumering Auter, the single member behind the band, offers us another dose of well-played and compositionally-fluent long-winded black metal, able to create a masterful degree of atmosphere, with a pinch of folk melodies embedded in some of the riffs.

6. Gatekeeper/Eternal Champion – Retaliator/Vigilance (Split)

Shifting of focus with this one, from black to epic metal. Both Gatekeeper and Eternal Champion are among the best new underground bands of the genre, and this collaboration between them is an exemplar gem. The release brings together more or less all of the bands’ past material, and showcases the grandeur of both. Mandatory for all epic/doom metal fans.

5. Grimoire – L’Aorasie des Spectres Reveurs (EP)

One-man black metal band from Quebec. It is not overtly difficult to take a correct guess as to Grimoire’s style; atmospheric (in a nostalgic, crave-for-past-glories way) black metal, with a furious edge, graced with excellent guitar riffing (simple yet highly effective in conjuring pure epicness), sparse use of beautiful keyboards, and above all a highly evocative mythical atmosphere. The vocals are more or less of the typical black metal variety, quite passionate, but where they truly shine is when they go for a clean, desperate and hugely epic hue, as in the ending of “Tragedie des Ombres”. Just under 25 minutes, this EP is pure gold, highly recommended for fans of Forteresse and Ephemer, but also for anyone into quality atmospheric black metal.

4. Spectral Lore – Gnosis (EP)

The single best Greek black metal band of our times returned this year with 2 lengthy ep’s (at least – supposedly there would also be a third one before the year’s end, though it seems unlikely now). And while in “Voyager” Ayloss took a deep dive in the space ambient/electronics genre, in “Gnosis” he returns on more traditional (a.k.a. Metal) forms, through which he tries to create an image of oriental music as it lies in his mind’s eye. The result is a 50-minutes long EP, that bears the distinctive Spectral Lore multi-layered guitar mentality, infuses the whole with certain oriental/Greek melodic parts, conjuring up an archaic atmosphere of historical hue (instead of the almost atemporal majesty of his past albums). By far the most complex and grand in scope release of the list.

3. Black Sword Thunder Attack – Promo

While chasing the phantom of the full-length album (which was to be released in this year, but was sadly delayed for an unspecified amount of time), this promo’s six minutes can showcase the pure epic genius of this Greek band, which draws deeply from the well of Lordian Guard (no only as far as the amazingly epic female vocals are concerned), infusing it with a bit of solid galloping. Their album-to-come is one of my most anticipated things for 2016 (hopefully). (It seems that there is no youtube or bandcamp version, so the link concerns their 2013 demo, whose first track appears also in the promo)

2. Belketre – Ryan Èvn-a (EP)

The return of one of Les Legions Noires members in 2015 was an unexpected event. The fact that the accompanying release, the “Ryan Èvn-a” EP, was an intriguing masterpiece of raw, agile, guitar-based black metal of grotesque production (the sound layers are bizarrely engineered, in a completely unorthodox way) was a most positive surprise. Not much to be said here, this is one of the most original releases of this year. The production may well dissuade a portion of the audience, but for me this, along with the guitar parts, is “Ryan evn-a’s” true advantage.

1. Necromancy – Ancient Wrath (EP)

Necromancy, essentially Necromantia’s earliest facet, are back after more than 25 years, with an ep containing 3 tracks steeped in the early Greek scene’s darkest majesty, reminding us why early Necromantia were among the darkest sounding bands of all time. For more check this amazing review (in Greek).