Sargon the Terrible
Top 10 lists are a staple of Heavy Metal web zines and I'm sure a lot of people, including me, look forward to reading them (to say nothing of making them). Like a lot of people, I found The Metal Crypt in a nondescript way but stuck around for the reviews of Sargon the Terrible. Acerbic, glowing, passionate, brutal, funny – all words that can describe Sargon's take on a multitude of releases over the years. That they are always spot-on is the icing on the cake. Unfortunately, Sargon's "day job" as a writer has him too busy to compile a best of list for 2016 but rather than go without, I decided to go through his 2016 reviews and remind everyone of some of the best releases of the year in his own words. Without further ado with quotes from the reviews themselves and nothing added, here are 10 of the top albums of 2016 as reviewed by Sargon the Terrible. The order is StT-approved. -MetalMike
1. Trees of Eternity - Hour of the Nightingale
"Overall, this album presents a powerful and bleak soundscape of beautiful, atmospheric Doom that stands out from the crowd with solid songwriting and excellent vocal work that is only made more powerful by genuine tragedy. Songs like "A Million Tears", and "Black Ocean" are pretty much as good as this kind of music can get."
2. Inquisition - Bloodshed Across the Empyrean Altar Beyond the Celestial Zenith
"Around since 1989 in one form or another, Inquisition have kind of quietly gone about the business of being a great fucking band. I thought Ominous Doctrines of the Perpetual Mystical Macrocosm back in 2011 was a marvelous slab of evil, but I think this one might really be even better. No matter how you look at it, I think Bloodshed Across the Empyrean Altar Beyond the Celestial Zenith really stands as the Black Metal album to beat this year."
3. Messa - Belfry
"Messa (Italian for "Mass") have only been around for a few years, and yet their debut here is a crushing, adventurous, occult work of genius. Building on a Sabbath-Doom base of traditional riffs and tube-amp power, they branch out and pull in all sorts of other influences without getting off-track. This album is highly eclectic, and yet it maintains a powerful Doom atmosphere that never wavers."
4. Draugnim - Vulturine
"...there are some amazing works here, like the expansive, epic riffs of "As In Hunger, So In Demise", the pounding and melodic "Grief Unsung", and the absolutely crushing "Drums of Black Death" – which is a better Moonsorrow song than Moonsorrow have produced in over a decade. If you like big, pounding, epic Pagan Metal, then this is a must-have."
5. Battlesword - Banners of Destruction
"I reviewed Battlesword's debut Failing in Triumph on a blind purchase back in 2003 – thirteen motherfucking years ago – and then the band seemed to drop off the face of the earth. I liked their debut, but eh, so many bands just vanish after one album or EP. What can you do? I am glad to see that this outfit has kept their shit together this long, and that the long wait seems to have paid off in a really first-class album."
6. Desaster - The Oath of an Iron Ritual
"...an album of crushing, flailing, pissed-off Thrash flavored with that kick of Blackened Satanic attitude they always brought to the table. The production is dirty and vicious, the riffs are aggressive and unapologetically old-school, and the songs are evil barrages of violence and hatred."
7. Sumerlands - Sumerlands
"Musically this is a nice blend of US-Metal with a NWOBHM approach to the riffs and especially the solos. I found myself reminded of other fine acts like Onward, Pharaoh, or Fool's Game by the dense, often complex yet hooky songwriting. This is just a winner all the way through, with excellent riffs, solid songwriting, and a classic metal feel that is hard to put my finger on, but remains there. This is new music that can make you nostalgic for the old days."
8. Final Sign - Hold High the Flame
"This is just a killer album, with plenty of riffs and hooks to keep you air guitaring along the whole way. Any fan of good old Heavy Metal will find plenty here to get excited about."
9. Axevyper - Into the Serpent's Den
"...this is punching, crunching True Metal to the bone. Into the Serpent's Den is just a riff-filled feast for fans of epic and true metal, and from the opening lick of "Brothers of the Black Sword" there is not a dull moment on this album."
10. Eternal Champion - The Armor of Ire
"Eternal Champion play a brand of US-Metal that owes a bit to Omen in the riff-style, but Jason Tarpey's haunting vocals call to mind more epic bands like Manilla Road or classic Warlord. The production on this disc is really first-rate, with heavy guitars, a good mix, and enough rawness to sound authentic without losing clarity. Opener "I Am the Hammer" is a pugilistic number, but the title cut is where the riffs get more complex and melodic, and Tarpey shines with evocative vocal melodies."
2016 was a year in which there was no clear, "wire to wire" leader for album of the year though a few were in my mind as contenders. In looking back over the list as it eventually shaped up, I pulled back from the extremes and there are no Black or Death bands but Thrash, Doom, Power and Traditional are well represented. Here's my yearly caveat; I only consider albums I've reviewed for The Metal Crypt for my Top 10. So, as always, if your favorite isn't here, either I didn't review it or it may just have sucked. No hard feelings.
1. Mob Rules - Tales from Beyond
Released waaay back at the beginning of 2016, I nearly lost track of Tales From Beyond. I have no reasonable explanation for that as this album rules (no pun intended). As I said in the review, this band from Germany has brought together "happy" Power Metal and more serious, Melodic Heavy Metal in one superb package. Mea culpa for allowing Tales From Beyond to find its way to the back burner until now.
2. Cauchemar - Chapelle ardente
Canada's Cauchemar are so old school, listening to their music is like looking through a time warp. On their third release, Chapelle Ardente, they channel all that was awesome about the 70s, give it a modern sound and their own unique twists and have come up with a salve for the old soul in all of us.
3. Bewitcher - Bewitcher
No genre is as over-saturated at the moment than retro Venom/Possessed/Celtic Frost Black/Thrash and I've reviewed countless examples in the last few years but Bewitcher does it better than most. There's a fine line between sounding loose without sounding like crap and Bewitcher knows exactly where that line is and fucking stomps all over it. If you could somehow line up "Ace of Spades" and "Black Metal" to play at the same time and in the same key you would probably get a Bewitcher song.
4. Septagon - Deadhead Syndicate
Every year an album or two comes out of nowhere and impresses the shit out of me. In 2016 it was Septagon's Deadhead Syndicate. I was thoroughly loving the Power/Thrash perfection of the album even before I realized Atlantean Kodex's Markus Becker was doing the vocals. That put the cherry on the top of this wickedly entertaining sundae.
5. Sodom - Decision Day
Just like there are always a few surprises from unknown bands each year, for the last few years my lists have featured long-running but down from their peak bands stepping up the plate and knocking one out of the park. In 2016 it was Germany's Sodom and their Decision Day album. Tom Angelripper and Sodom were never on my radar back in the 80s but this album grabbed me by the collar and demanded I sit up and take notice. I dutifully obeyed.
6. Medevil - Conductor of Storms
Another contender for the "from out of nowhere" award, Canada's Medevil (the Great White North kicked some serious ass this year) dropped Conductor of Storms on us and fans of US Metal when it was truly METAL, in the vein of Manilla Road, Omen and Warlord, rejoiced.
7. Vicious Rumors - Concussion Protocol
Another long-running band, Vicious Rumors brought their A-game to 2016's Concussion Protocol and created an album worthy of standing alongside the band's classics – Digital Dictator, Soldiers of the Night and Welcome to the Ball. Power/Thrash excellence.
8. Sumerlands - Sumerlands
A year without an album featuring Phil Swanson on vocals is getting to be a rarity. The ubiquitous singer, who is threatening Mike Vescera's 80s omnipresence, gives one of his finest performances on this classic US Metal opus. Because Swanson opts for some studio effects on his voice, something he normally avoids, you might not recognize him right away but regardless this is a band that needs to release more music as soon as possible.
9. Bat - Wings of Chains
Another Black/Thrash release that rose to the top of the bubbling cauldron of evil in 2016. Venom worship is the name of the game and these guys do it so very well.
10. Lethal Steel - Legion of the Night
A couple of years ago, releases from High Roller were all over my Top 10 and though the well seems to have dried up a bit, Lethal Steel's Legion of the Night shows the label is still able to find quality music. This album is so simple, in a fantastic, early 80s kind of way. It's fast, heavy and full of Heavy Metal attitude with none of the complex, fanciful or abstruse things bands do today to try and separate themselves from the pack.
2016 was a really great year for Metal with lots of new releases from both established and less known names. Placing them in a Top 10 list, in some sort of order, wasn't a pleasant task, I am afraid. It was very hard for me to nail down the final Top 10 this year. Many worthy releases were left off (Gravebomb's Rot in Putrid Filth, Slaughterday's Laws of the Occult, Draugnim's Vulture, Vektor's Terminal Redux, Testament's Brotherhood of the Snake, Schizo's Rotten Spiral, Insomnium's Winter's Gate, etc. etc.).
Since I have always had a soft spot for Thrash Metal, my 2016 list is dominated by releases that come from that genre.
1. Moonsorrow - Jumalten aika
Moonsorrow is Moonsorrow, having created their own recognizable style of Pagan/Heathen Metal over the years. On Jumalten Aika, which is the band's sixth studio album, Moonsorrow combine all of the elements that have characterized their previous works, from raw, unforgiving Black Metal to magnificent, intense, colossal and epic Folk Metal, they all send cold shivers down your spine. This album is an amazing piece of musical finesse, summarizing in a fine way what Moonsorrow is all about and rightfully deserving the number 1.
2. Paradox - Pangea
Highly enjoyable, excellently executed, technical Thrash Metal blended with tiny pieces of Speed and Power Metal and tons of killer musical value. Charly Steinhauer is officially a musical genius; a true master of piercing and striking riffs supported by killer and catchy hooks and an endless songwriting capacity.
3. Renascent - Praise of the Lord God Almighty
This totally came out nowhere. Symphonic, monumental and aggressive Black/Death Metal at its best, with a strong Christian theme incorporated into their lyrics!! Well, you want to let their music do the talking on this record as it's their bombastic and massive sound that rules all the ruins.
4. Inquisition - Bloodshed Across the Empyrean Altar Beyond the Celestial Zenith
Inquisition had a vision of becoming something great and magnificent musically, lyrically and visually. All this and more come together on the band's brilliantly executed seventh album. Highly atmospheric Black Metal in its most sophisticated and intelligent form.
5. Wyruz - Judge and Jury
This album took me by surprise. I had heard their debut album Fire at Will in 2012 but I wasn't 100% impressed by it. On the band's follow-up album Judge and Jury Wyruz have taken their songwriting to a whole new level. Technical and progressive Death/Thrash at its finest. 'nuff said.
6. Helstar - Vampiro
Helstar never lets you down. The Texan Metal veterans' ninth studio album reeks of all the classic Helstar elements, both old and new. Just a monster of an album and vocalist James Rivera seems to get better with age.
7. Hellbringer - Awakened from the Abyss
Total early Slayer-worship from the Show/Hell/R.i.B. era. These Australian fellows sound more like Slayer on this album than Slayer have in years. Gotta love and respect this one! Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery they say.
8. Hobbs' Angel of Death - Heaven Bled
Peter Hobbs and co. returned this year with a long-awaited comeback album. Was it all worth the wait? Hell YEZZZ sir!!! Heaven Bled still sounds like Hobbs', only with more Black Metal influences and even some catchy, hooky melodies that we haven't heard from them before.
9. Lethal Presence - Unholy Alliance
One of my underground Thrash favorites from the tape-trading days is finally getting a proper LP/CD release. Vicious, aggressive and brutal Thrash into the vein of early Slayer and early Kreator. You really cannot go wrong with early Slayer or Kreator, can you?
10. Infant Death - Violent Rites
As the title of this Norwegian trio's third full-length studio album suggests, expect no less than totally frenzied, uncompromising, filthy and hostile blackened Thrash Metal in the vein of Sadus' first album. Borrowing a song title from a famous pop singer and altering it slightly, "Damn, those Norwegians did it again..."
Edward T. Head
Apparently, age is catching up with me. I spent so much of the past year with my ears stuck in the past (damn the 80s and early 90s were glorious), that I failed to check out a whole lot of what 2016 had to offer. But of my limited listens, here's what I liked (and didn't).
1. Borknagar - Winter Thrice
Surpassing Empricism as my favorite Borknagar album, Winter Thrice retains all the other-worldly qualities we're used to, with the collective's strongest songwriting yet. And Vintersorg, Vortex and Garm all sharing vocal duties: Brilliant.
2. Mob Rules - Tales from Beyond
I'd all but forgotten about Mob Rules, then Tales from Beyond came along to slap me back into reality. This is top-notch German Power Metal, and the Maiden-esque opener is worth the price of admission all by itself.
3. Dark Forest - Beyond the Veil
Dark Forest has become the master of Power Metal that feels both epic and grounded/organic all at the same time. It's hard to describe, but it works amazingly.
4. Myrath - Legacy
At this point, Myrath may be better than both Kamelot and Serenity at the Power Metal meets Gothic meets Classical sound. Legacy is instantly memorable, but possesses enough twists and turns to have staying power.
5. Helstar - Vampiro
Vampiro is perhaps Helstar's best effort since Nosferatu, with the dark and moody atmosphere that made the Texan's so great in the first place.
6. Destruction - Under Attack
After some recent disappointments, it's great to hear some high-quality Teutonic Thrash from Destruction again.
7. Exmortus - Ride Forth
These guys just rip, and have from the beginning. Thrash Metal that's all about battles, barbarians, Vikings and the like – what's not to love?
8. Amon Amarth - Jomsviking
What's there to say about Amon Amarth? Sure, Jomsviking sounds like everything else since Versus the World, but the Swedes are just damn good at what they do.
9. Cobalt - Slow Forever
Slow Forever is my first foray into the twisted world of Cobalt, and it's quite the ride. Nearly 84 minutes of Black mixed with all other extreme forms of metal seems quite daunting, but Cobalt somehow pull it off.
10. Ghoul - Dungeon Bastards
They may be silly, but damn if the guys in Ghoul don't make me want to bang my head. Dungeon Bastards is simply tongue-in-cheek Thrash/Death that's just fun to listen to.
1. Omen - Hammer Damage
The name Omen carries real gravity in the metal world, but Hammer Damage takes that name and proceeds to shit all over it. This is beyond trash from start to finish, and in nearly every facet.
2. Suidakra - Realms of Odoric
I love Suidakra, and have for a very long time, but Realms of Odoric just sounds too samey throughout, with nothing really grabbing. Not terrible, but Suidakra is capable of so much more.
3. Serenity - Codex Atlanticus
When Serenity announced that Codex Atlanticus was moving back into a more Power Metal direction, I was stoked. However, it seems these gents left their hooks behind too, as these are the most lifeless songs of the band's career.
I thought it would be hard to top 2015 in terms of quality releases, both in new and experienced bands. But boy, was I wrong. I've listened to literally hundreds of albums and, as I do every year, created an Excel sheet with a shor tlist divided by genres. To my surprise, I came up with an overwhelming number of 132 albums. So here's my list of the best albums of 2016, after almost going crazy selecting them.
Quick note: I gave 4.75/5 for Borknagar on my review of Winter Thrice and 4.5/5 for Sunburst's Fragments of Creation, but I enjoyed the latter so much after the reviews that I couldn't put it below the former. This was my only personal choice regarding this list.
1. Insomnium - Winter's Gate
There isn't much to be said about this album that you haven't heard or read anywhere else. This is a fucking masterpiece crafted by sheer erudition and the innermost emotions. A beautiful epitome of the phonographic art: dense, layered, intense and, most importantly, very fun.
2. Saor - Guardians
My favorite album by Saor so far. Andy Marshall manages to capture the essence of his motherland and turn it into art in the form of a ravaging and blissful album. Folk, Pagan and Black Metal fans, rejoice.
3. Eldamar - The Force of the Ancient Land
Matthias Hemmingby put everything on his shoulders in this one-man band and created a deep, meaningful and layered opus, full of nuances and passion. Seldom do we find albums this organic and well-constructed. The Force of the Ancient Land is one of those albums that transcends its genre and must be heard by everyone out there. The perfect background music of 2016.
4. Helstar - Vampiro
There is a little bit of everything in Vampiro, from the memories of Pentagram and Candlemass to full-on Thrash Metal. It's one of the most the gratifying albums I've heard this year, and a gift from Helstar to us in the form of haunting and vigorous music.
5. Ripper - Experiment of Existence
Visceral, ambitious, cruel. Ripper's sophomore album is every bit as weird and macabre as its name, and the perfect choice for fans of Morbid Saint, Sadus and Pestilence. Killer.
6. Ancient Empire - Other World
Be it the unique and prolific vocals of Joe Lizst, the perfect hooks and bridges, the huge choruses or just the overall quality of this gem, it's safe to say that the album transcends simple music and will find a spot in many, many collections around the globe. Hell, "Fight Another Day" alone crushes most albums out there anyway, so the whole album is just not fair to the competition.
7. Whispered - Metsutan - Songs of the Void
Samurais, Death Metal and badassness. I couldn't ask for more than that and, again, Whispered delivered a crazy, powerful and aggressive album in Metsutan – Songs of the Void. Be it the Japanese elements, the coolness of the riffs, the lunatic vocals or the overall atmosphere, this was definitely one of the albums I had the most fun with this year and a no brainer in my list.
8. Sunburst - Fragments of Creation
Roy Khan widows will rejoice with the amazing vocal range and techniques of Vasilis Georgiou, guitar-virtuoso enthusiasts will find sanctum with Gus Drax and even those who love the modern approach adopted by the newer Prog/Power Metal bands will definitely find something for them here. Absolutely mandatory for Power Metal fans and, in my opinion, one of the best debut albums of the last decade for the genre.
9. Eternal Champion - The Armor of Ire
The Armor of Ire is a complete class-act regarding atmosphere and songwriting, borrowing passages from Michael Moorcock and H.P. Lovecraft tales, all while featuring haunting solos and masterful performances by frontman Jason Tarpey. Epic, impressive, fun and intelligent, this is an instant classic.
10. Trees of Eternity - Hour of the Nightingale
This is so haunting and beautiful, it almost feels surreal. One of the most emotional albums I've heard in a long time, Hour of the Nightingale becomes greater with each listen, and when you think about the tragedy that took vocalist Aleah Stanbridge's life earlier this year, it becomes nearly impossible to not feel personally attached to the album.
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