My Favorite Records of 2016

2016 was just as musically fruitful as 2015 was. According to last.fm, I, once again, listened to a shit load of records this year. Some staples, many new faces, many incredible records!

Let’s get it on!

25.) Deftones - Gore

I’ve been a giant fanboy for these guys since Adrenaline. This is one of my most listened to albums from last year, and I thought it was excellent. Chino can do no wrong. These guys really have crafted a unique sound, so many bands try to jock their style but there can only be one Deftones. Great album.

24.) Gojira - Magma

Thunderous would be an understatement. This album is heavy. I take great joy in watching Mario Duplantier play the drums, he beats the living hell out them live. I think L’Enfant Sauvage was a better overall album, but this one is really close.

23.) Swans - The Glowing Man

I wasn’t expecting to like this as much as I did. A double album with really long compositions of experimental music. This band is known historically for being extremely loud and in your face. This album is the polar opposite of that. Beautiful and tranquil at times, with excellent instrumentation throughout. Well worth your ears attention.

22.) Anaal Nathrakh - The Whole of the Law

This album is like a sledgehammer to the face on repeat. Fantastic powerviolence / industrial record. From start to finish this album doesn’t let up, and if extreme metal is your thing this record is for you.

21.) Run the Jewels - Run the Jewels 3

This one barely made it into 2016. Outstanding hip hop record. These dudes know how to make catchy hooks and great verses. The third one is definitely worthy.

20.) Whores. - Gold

Hilarious name aside, this band really surprised me. I was not expecting anything close to the sludgy, stoner metal riffs that arise from this record. Great songs throughout, I’d love to see them live.

19.) Eight Bells - Landless

Monstrous release. Sludgy sludge. Never heard of this band before this year, and I am grateful for discovering them. An excellent record if you’re looking for your ears to be pounded by thunderous riffs.

18.) After the Burial - Dig Deep

I followed the story of Justin Lowe’s death in mid 2015. Such a tragic unfolding of events. He was a great songwriter, guitarist, and, from what I hear, person. Death is very difficult to overcome, and some people never overcome it. After the Burial certainly used the recording and writing process to get over the loss of their brother, and Dig Deep is the result. Their best yet. This record slams harder than anything they’ve ever recorded, and the breakdown of Collapse, the first track, is still to this day one of the most neck snapping, trainwreck, beat down hardcore breakdowns I’ve ever heard. Lost in the Static felt like a fitting tribute to Justin, as did the rest of the record. I hope these guys can get past their hardships, they’ve got a ton of talent and I wish them and their families all the best.

17.) Schammasch - Triangle

Triple album of some evil black metal?! Sign me up! This is such an ambitious undertaking that one almost has to give it props just for making an attempt. But Schammasch don’t just try, they exceed anyone’s expectations in crafting just over 100 minutes of a beautifully chaotic opus. Each record has a life of it’s own, from full on black metal on part 1, to the much more stripped down and almost operatic part 2, to the incredibly experimental and avant garde third act. I never heard of this band before hearing Triangle, and afterwards I immediately looked up their discography. These Switzerland native are no stranger to long compositions, having written a double album clocking in at 85 minutes (Contradiction) in 2014. Even if you’re not a fan of black metal there will probably something you will enjoy somewhere in this epic voyage of music. Fantastic record.

16.) Graves at Sea - The Curse That Is

Bludgeoning sludge metal debut full length from a long time underground band, Graves at Sea have further cemented themselves into the doom and sludge record books with The Curse That Is. Huge riffs, larger than life guitar tone, and excellent songwriting make this one to check out.

15.) A Tribe Called Quest - We Got It from Here… Thank You 4 Your Service

Phife Dawg passed away in March, but he did get to appear on this record, which will probably be the last record from this extraordinary group of legendary hip hop masters. While this doesn’t match The Low End Theory (although, seriously, can anything, really?) it is one of the best hip hop records I’ve listened to this decade. Everyone owes it to their ears to spin this at least one time. So good.

14.) Emma Ruth Rundle - Marked for Death

Last year, Marriages released a really great, haunting record called Salome. Their frontwoman and guitarist, Emma Ruth Rundle, happens to have quite the prolific musical career of her own, including a few solo records. Marked for Death is her third solo record, and it’s as good as last year’s Marriages record, in my opinion. She writes some incredibly catchy and simultaneously deep songs with vocal melodies that get ensnared in the brain web for days. Excellent post rock album.

13.) NAILS - You Will Never Be One Of Us

Like a war cry for musicians in bands all over the world, NAILS managed to capture the intensity of an assaulting live show on record with You Will Never Be One of Us. From start to finish, this record never lets up. If you are into this type of extreme metal you probably already know this band. Future classic powerviolence record.

12.) Ulver - ATGCLVLSSCAP

Having known who Ulver was before listening to ATGCLVLSSCAP but not being extremely familiar with their catalog, I didn’t realize what I was listening to at first. This album is awesome. Start to finish, it’s a musical voyage unlike anything I’ve really heard before. Almost 80 minutes of lush, textured, experimental music that ebbs and flows with the natural progression of a live show. Then I listened to it four more times and started to investigate. Turns out, this album was recorded at 12 different live performances in 2014 and largely contains reworkings and rearrangements of older Ulver songs. This record is incredible. Production and arrangements are out of this world (which justifies the name, ATGCLVLSSCAP, which is an initialism for all the Zodiac signs). I cannot recommend this one enough. One of my most listened to records of 2016.

11.) Chthe’ilist - Le Dernier Crépuscule

A late entry for me that slipped under the radar for much of the year. What an incredible blackened death metal record. I look forward to the next one from these Canadian death metallers, they have a bright future ahead of them if this is any indication.

10.) Car Bomb - Meta

This is the musical equivalent of a car bomb. Aptly named band, in my opinion. I think this is their best record yet. The frenetic pacing and overall break neck pacing and tempo changes really make this an interesting listen. Check it out if you’re into groovy, heavy bands like Meshuggah, you will love this.

9.) Anderson .Paak - Malibu

Anderson .Paak is incredibly talented. Malibu is, front to back, an amazing piece of music. Singer, songwriter, drummer, producer, pianist, there’s pretty much nothing this guy can’t do. There’s so much funk and raw emotion in his music that it’s impossible to listen to Malibu without wanting to get up and get your groove on sliding across the dance floor. It’s so fun (and humbling) to watch him play the drums and sing his songs live. Every single track on Malibu can stand on it’s own. More, please.

8.) David Bowie - Blackstar

What an incredible record from Ziggy Stardust. The first moments of the lead in eponymous track are haunting, especially considering how the release of this record unfolded. I like all of his records, but this one is something special. He had to know. You can hear it in his voice and you can feel it. One of the greatest musicians of all time leaves a fitting eulogy for us all. An instant classic.

7.) Oathbreaker - Rheia

Blown away is a phrase I will use to describe the way Rheia affected me on first listen. Oathbreaker blew me away with their third record of avant garde, blackened post metal (amongst other genres, but who’s keeping track?). After a very calm, serene sung passage by vocalist Caro Tanghe, the listener is immediately thrust into the depths of her absolutely massive sounding and piercingly violent scream. It’s awesome. She drives the songs and then out of nowhere you get a beautiful, lush clean sung passage from her again. I love the way she does this, it’s such a great juxtaposition and works incredibly well in this genre. This record sounds huge and quickly is becoming one of my favorite records of the decade. I can’t wait to see them in April.

6.) Flatbush Zombies - 3001: A Spaced Odyssey

These New York hip hop future legends dropped this record in March and I played it more than any other record of last year. Every single track on this record should be a single. The beats Erick the Architect concocts get stuck in your head for weeks, and Zombie Juice and Meechy Darko are quickly becoming some of my favorite hip hop MCs. Every lyric these guys spit feels like the real deal. I can’t wait for the next record and the next tour. One of the best hip hop records this decade.

5.) The Dillinger Escape Plan - Dissociation

A fitting end to a hall of fame journey. I had the good fortune of seeing The Dillinger Escape Plan twice in one day this past summer, once at their Riot Fest afternoon performance and again later that evening with about 200 other fans at Cobra Lounge. That Cobra Lounge show will go down as one of the most chaotic, legendary shows I’ve ever witnessed (if I had to put a number on it, third all time for me, ask me what one and two are). Dissociation managed to pack the feeling of being at the show, in that crowd full of die hard fans, onto record. I’m probably in the minority, but I loved One of Us is the Killer more than everything else they’ve done previously. Dissociation feels like the logical follow up to that record in every way, while still being a DEP record. All the aspects spanning their entire career seem to be on display here, including the evolution of Greg Puciato’s incredible vocal stylings. I will miss this band a lot, but I look forward to all the crazy sounds that these masters of avant garde metal come up with in their new projects. A new timeless record.

4.) Russian Circles - Guidance

I had the pleasure of seeing Russian Circles at Metro in Chicago this past summer. It was my first time seeing them live. I was not prepared for the absolutely monstrous guitar tone that Mike Sullivan cranked out of his Les Paul (in fact, I was blown away so much by this show and Mike’s tone that I ended up ordering the same custom amp he uses from Verellen Amplifiers in Seattle). These Chicago natives brought their live sound to record with Guidance. In my opinion their best record yet, Guidance surprised the hell out of me right from the start. From the tone to the production to the riffs to the songwriting, it’s a mature and almost catchy record that holds a definitive place in the Russian Circles catalog. If you’ve never heard them, imagine a wall of guitar amps being fed a diet of nothing but effects pedals and conjuring both serene tones and earth shattering riffs. Ridiculously amazing record.

3.) SubRosa - For This We Fought The Battle of Ages

Experimental sludge and doom from Salt Lake City. I was not very familiar with SubRosa’s back catalog before listening to this, but I had heard their name a lot, and people that liked them loved the hell out of them. After the first spin, all I could say was “wtf did I just listen to?” and long string of sounds that resembled “whoa” and “wow” amongst others. This is a deep listen. 5 dense songs (the shortest of the first 3 is 13:27) and one short interlude to divide the halves. But, oh my, if you give it a chance, you are in for one hell of a payoff. Vocalist and guitarist Rebecca Vernon seems to elicit an unholy combination of beautiful melodies and simultaneous demonic sounding barks and shrieks that, over top the crushing riffs, provide some memorable vocal passages. If you are a doom fan in the slightest, you probably already heard this, but if not, check it out as soon as humanly possible.

2.) Esben and the Witch - Older Terrors

Last year, my favorite record was Bridging Realms by Dreadnought, by a landslide. A lot of the things I loved about Bridging Realms are why I ranked Older Terrors so highly. This record hits the sweet spot for me, combining songwriting that takes a lot of chances that end up paying off, excellent instrumentation and playing that captures the idea and vision, and toeing the line between folk, pop, rock, and all out doomy sludgy metal. Esben and the Witch captures that lightning in a bottle. What a fantastic record this is. Rachel Davies’ voice is beautiful, and really goes well with their folky metal tunes. Her voice is essentially a 4 fourth instrument to along with her sultry bass playing. Thomas Fisher lends some excellent guitar work on this album, leaving room for Davies to work her magic and only really taking center stage when the song requires it. When the doom does rear it’s head the riffs are awesome. And Daniel Copeman plays the drums with a vigor and restraint that further cements the rhythm section into your brain.

The first track, Sylvan, perfectly demonstrates this band’s strengths. The ebb and flow from serene overture to crushing wall of guitars comes at the perfect time, and throughout the song this river of sound continues to carry the listener on a voyage of doomy bliss. The different movements encapsulating this first track are arranged in a way that really piqued my interest as both a songwriter and a rabid music fan. It is this same attention to detail and craft, I believe, that draws the strong comparisons to Dreadnought’s opus from last year. Every one of the dense compositions found in Older Terrors feels like it was concocted across days, weeks, or months, poring over every note, every passage, every crescendo, every ethereal transition. I look forward to following this band for the years to come, and really hope to catch them live soon. Do not miss this one.

1.) Inter Arma - Paradise Gallows

The first time I heard Paradise Gallows I instantly sensed an overwhelming feeling of awe and was overcome with the desire to listen to it on repeat indefinitely. This album is a masterpiece, blurring the lines of any and all genre classifications throughout all of music, not just metal. It is, in my humble opinion, as close as you can get to a perfect record without sounding manufactured or sterile. This record has everything I could want as a music fan and then some.

I was really looking forward to this, as I’ve been an Inter Arma fan for a while. The Cavern and Sky Burial are fantastic records in their own right, but Paradise Gallows is something special. This record feels like the swan song of a band 3 decades their elders, yet here they are, producing a piece of music that seems to defy a lot of the laws about what a modern metal record can and should be. The playing and songwriting on this record are flawless. If you had to put a genre on this record I guess I would say “strongly blackened sludgy death metal with psychdelic influences” but it’s just music to me.

I feel like Inter Arma have ascended to another level with this record. I already had a lot of respect for them based on their back catalog, but wow, did they just excel all expectations with Paradise Gallows. The first thing that jumped out to me was how well Mike Paparo has honed his vocal delivery since The Cavern. It’s incredible to listen to. He has perfected the growling shriek that gave me chills on that EP / song and has gone even further on this release. The cliché in blackened metal is “vocals as an instrument” but this guy truly nails that convention. It’s incredibly awe inspiring, and as a fan of this type of music, it is the perfect complement to the instruments.

The guitars on this record are beautifully written and captured. Trey Dalton and Steven Russell create a wall of sound and texture that is second to nothing else I listened to in 2016. Nothing comes close to the raw power and feeling of claustrophobic, monstrous terror that accompanies the guitar sound on Paradise Gallows. My favorite passages include the main riff in Transfiguration and the absolutely brutal breakdown parts in Violent Constellations. Transfiguration really hooked me from the start, that riff just begs to be repeated for days.

The rhythm section is like a demon monster from hell on this recording. Such a snarling beast, with an incredible low end to perfectly complement to sonic assault from the vocals and guitars. Joe Kerkes lends some truly incredible bass lines to this record. I remember wondering some times whether it was guitar or bass coming from the speakers, his playing is so tight and crushing. And T.J. Childers on the drums…well, let’s pause for a moment here. I got the pleasure of seeing Inter Arma for the first time this year at Empty Bottle in Chicago with all my bandmates from Uncouth. T.J. Childers live on the drums was one of the most incredible performances I’ve witnessed in my short life. They played most of Paradise Gallows that night (and their encore, unfortunately, was cut short due to guitar rig issues) but I feel like T.J. still hasn’t stopped his performance from that night. He played wearing swim trunks, and after the show, I can understand why. The guy is a beast behind his kit, and the entire band performed near flawless renditions of every track. I was blown away, as I continue to be amazed by this record every time I spin it.

Needless to say, Paradise Gallows was my favorite record of 2016. It has everything you could want in a record and more. It’s pretty refreshing to hear a story about more than just death and carnage in this style of music, as Paparo tends to be more intrigued by time, voyages, societal upheaval, and an almost poetic beauty of downfall. I will undoubtedly be wearing out this record for years to come. This is a special album in many respects, and gets the top honor from me by a landslide.

Honorable Mentions


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