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.

2015 – Top 20 Albums

indstries
For albums 21-40 see here.
For 10 best non-full-length releases see here.

20. Y – De Occulta Philosophia

Somewhere between noise and harsh black metal with an all-consuming occult feeling, one and a half hour of wanderings in dungeon corridors. Including some of the most diverse and interesting vocals that one can hear today. The intelligence behind This Is Past delivers an onslaught of mysticism. Bonus Track: this radio show, which is one of the most imposing and atmospheric things that I have heard.

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19. Arcturus – Arcturian

I had long waited for this album, namely a worthy successor to “The Sham Mirrors” (“Sideshow Symphonies” didn’t quite convince me). Sverd&co return to the glories of days past, creating an album that sounds refreshing, showcasing a band tightly bonded. ICS Vortex’s performance is magnificent, reminiscent of Garm’s glory days. One of the most flowing and catchy albums of this year. Full review here.

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18. Batushka – Litourgyia

An album that came out of nowhere at the year’s end, exhibiting an orthodox painting in its cover, teasing us with the members’ supposed identities, and hyping very quickly. The thing is, that “Litourgyia” lives up to most of the hype; it sports amazing monastic/psalm-like vocals, is permeated with a deeply devout atmosphere, and riff-wise the things are getting more interesting with each successive listening session.

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17. Death Karma – The History Of Death & Burial Rituals part I

The magic of Cult Of Fire resides within this project of 2 of the Czech masters. Highly varied black metal, which roams through six countries, gazing upon the (pre-)burial rituals of each with a different sonic lens, always within the genre territory. An album that sees face to face with Cult Of Fire’s latest opus, and proves (along with this year’s Malokarpatan album) that Central/Eastern Europe is a matrix of ingenious extreme metal. Full review here.

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16. Awe – Providentia

One of the most non-conformist albums of 2015, “Providentia” moves beyond the boundaries of orthodox black metal per se, implementing a bucketload of guitar ideas, which make the careful listener return again and again in this multi-layered masterpiece. It certainly takes a lot of courage to immerse oneself in the complexity of the album, but the result is certainly rewarding. Full review here.

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15. Black Cilice – Mysteries

This Portuguese black metal band has been very active for the last 6 years, but it was only with this year’s “Mysteries” that they got in my radar. Raw (more production- than compositionally- wise) black metal with an almost ritualistic core, that nevertheless includes some of the most fulfilling of this year’s riffs. A work of art to be listened to in dark isolation, an ode to the spirit of true black metal.

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14. Mûspellzheimr – Hyldest Til Trolddommens Flamme

If you are asking for the best traditional (in the strict ’90s sense) black metal album of 2015 search no more. The Danish have crafted an album that gazes steadily upon the frosty darkness of the Scandinavian scene of days past, and has the glamour of such grand artists as Kampfar, Setherial, and first-album Dimmu Borgir and Borknagar. Most people seem to have fallen for Slaegt this year, but for me there is no doubt about the best Danish black metal act.

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13. False – Untitled

Gilead Media has nailed two brilliant albums this year, the first being False’s debut, “Untitled”. Black metal steeped in both American and European tradition, drawing just a bit from the cascadian scene, creating a study in negativity and the archaic. Graced with brilliant compositions and more than satisfactory vocals from Rachel, “Untitled” is an album to return to, again and again.

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12. Hæthen – Shaped by Aeolian Winds

Firstly, this album has the best cover art of 2015 by far. Secondly, Hæthens debut album is an atmospheric ode to nature and the past, filtered through the prism of early Enslaved and Emperor, as well as Wolves In The Throne Room. Deeply pagan throughout, with a hint of eeriness production-wise, “Shaped by Aeolian Winds” is the definite winter album of the list. Full review here.

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11. Pale Chalice – Negate the Infinite & Miraculous

The second album of Gilead Media in the list, Pale Chalice’s debut is not so far from False’s sound, though it is more deeply rooted in the European scene. Highly agile guitars, which do not shy from melodic outbreaks, and some of the most suggestive song titles of 2015, like Fragile Bones Cradling Tallow ”. What shines above all however is its passionate, occult atmosphere; a nocturnal album that pleads for solitary listenings. Full review here.

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10. Enforcer – From Beyond

It’s almost impossible to skip an Enforcer release on a year list. With their fourth album the Swedes keep delivering excellent heavy metal, whose caliber is on par with the grand ’80s monsters. A bit more introspective than their previous works (take for instance the magnificent “Below The Slumber”), it nevertheless has all the trademarks of this amazing band that we are privileged to experience in out time.

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9. Crypt Sermon – Out of the Garden

Just listen to “Into The Holy Of Holies”. “Out Of The Garden” is epic doom metal done right, and simultaneously managing not sound like another Candlemass/Solitude Aeturnus clone. Riffs here are plain majesty. It is quite a rare thing the existence of a doom album in my end year top list, yet Crypt Sermon was nailed there since this album came out.

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8. Misþyrming – Söngvar elds og óreiðu

Noxious, maelstromic black metal, which draws upon the darkest side of the orthodox genre (Svartidaudi, Numinous), and wanders through subterranean passages with majestic skill. Top-notch riffing, suffocating atmosphere, and vocals full of command; the necrotic spirit of black metal breathes mightily in here. Another masterpiece from Iceland, following on the tradition of Wormlust, Sinmara and Svartidaudi.

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7. Dødheimsgard – A Umbra Omega

Well, a new Dødheimsgard after 8 years is definitely cause for celebration, especially since it is so much better than its predecessor, fighting toe to toe with “666 International” (as far as I am concerned) in quality terms. We had missed Vicotnik’s ingenious riffs, doubly so their being accompanied by Aldrahn’s voice. The storm of ideas that coexist in this one is threatening to the listener’s sanity (and a bit to the album’s cohesion to be honest). Full review here.

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6. Terminus – The Reaper’s Spiral

Good old epic heavy metal. Whoever had heard the “Into Exile” demo (whose four tracks are part of the album) was on the lookout, with the uttermost attention for this debut. Not much to say here, Terminus are the last link on a long chain that contains bands such as Lord Weird Slough Feg, Isen Torr, Borrowed Time, etc. Pure epicness deserves pure praise.

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5. Panphage – Storm

I recently reviewed this album, and I stand by my opinion, that if this album was released somewhere in the late ’90s it would be considered a classic. Black metal with a folk soul, with guitar parts that are begging to be listened to again and again. This year’s shining jewel and example of the Swedish underground scene’s blazing quality. Full review here.

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4. Volahn/Arizmenda/Kallathon/Shataan – Desert Dances and Serpent Sermons

It is indeed rare the year in which a Crepusculo Negro release is not part of my list. There was not a full album from any of its bands in 2015, but this 4-way split more than made up for it. A tour of the desert, the jungles, and the dungeons (in Arizmenda’s case) of Central America, this is like a fist of devotion raised towards the indigenous gods of the continent. Full review here.

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3. Nocternity – Harps of the Ancient Temples

Taking a different approach, more hypnotic and subdued (not in a bad way), without moments of elation, “Harps of the Ancient Temples” showcases a band that has matured in an elegant way. Mesmerizing mid-tempo black metal of refreshing clarity and originality. If one searches for influences, he may well stumble into the middle tracks of “Hvis Lysset Tar Oss” and the gloomiest parts of “Filosofem”, as well as the more shadowy parts of “Thorns”, all filtered through Khal Drogo’s personal mark. Minimalistic in many ways, Nocternity’s new opus is an album that breezes, not blasts, its path through the listener without much effort, without climaxes, and ends up winning you all the way.

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2. Trial – Vessel

Can’t really say much about this masterpiece. Maybe the best example, in recent years, of ’80s heavy metal revival, focusing on US power, classic British metal, and Mercyful Fate guitars, this is just amazing. Each of these songs is an artifact to be treasured and exhibited next to the Classics.

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1. Macabre Omen – Gods of War – At War

This album is the “Hammerheart” of our times, simple as that. Full review here.

Panphage – Storm (2015) review

panphage

There may be no moment more glorious in black metal than when the underground shines with blazing inspiration. Panphage, a one-man band from Sweden, was a completely unknown to me entity before this summer, when I was introduced by a friend to their “Ursvöl” demo, a raw exemplar of 90’s Scandinavian black metal riffing with a pinch of folk embedded in guitar-parts structure, ending up as a beautiful descendant of the pagan spirit of the once-mighty Norwegian scene. This year’s “Storm” is the debut album of the band, released in this spectacular cassette edition (see it here) via Ætergap Productions. As was apparent from their numerous (6) quality demo releases (“Ætt Loka” & “Ursvöl” being their crowning achievements) Panphage is not a one-hit wonder, and “Storm” showcases it in an excellent way.

As in most genres, there is a multitude of multi-polar divisions inside black metal, some of them quite evident and embraced as a system of classification by many a listener (the naive “raw versus atmospheric” categorization being a prime example), others being less apparent/adopted. One such broad bipolar division, probably apparent to most of the audience, yet not so widely referenced, is a difference in guitar mentality: flexible and agile guitar riffing versus a more monolithic use of the instrument as a wall of atmosphere, not unlike the post-rock example. While both categories have more than adequate specimens, I have a preference for agile, front-line riffing, and “Storm” is a more than welcome contemporary example of it. Even in the 2 out of the 3 instrumental tracks of the release, one’s interest is immediately hooked up by the procession of and exchange between acoustic and slightly distorted folk motifs (the third one, the closing “Fenomen” is an eerie keyboard based anthem, reminiscent of Vemod). The remaining 5 songs are each based upon a simple yet elegant guitar idea, steeped in the folk spirit, highly melodic, yet never straying from black metal aesthetics. What Taake once did with “Nattestid..” and Ulver with “Bergtatt..” finds here its logical descendant. Pompous, atmospheric even in its grooviest moments (as in certain parts of “Hemmavid” which have a tendency for thrashing versality), with a mix of melodic and rawer-yet-essentially-clean vocals, “Storm” is highly passionate. Also of note, production-wise the band has improved, discarding a measure of the demo “underground” fuzziness in favour of a clarity of just the right quantity. But it all comes down to this amazing mixture of folk ideas in highly active riffing, which was and still is the hands-down best way of creating the kind of northern majestic atmosphere that part of black metal is all about.

Storm” is the last link on a chain containing masterpieces as “Nattestid..” and “Bergtatt..”, Borknagar’s debut, Kampfar’s 2 first opuses, certain Isengard and Storm (the band) moments, and some less well-known recordings, as Bethel’s “Northern Supremacy”; if it was released during the 90’s, «Storm» would be considered a classic. More importantly for now, it is proof of this subgenre’s contemporary existence. Swedish underground is during the past few years the single best place for black metal traditionalists to turn their attention to. Total support for this band (check also their “Gøthalandom” split with Jarnvidr which was released this summer).