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|2K16: Stylin' in Shadows|
All things considered, 2016 was a pretty good year for me. Had a bunch of new experiences, work was decent, lived together with foreign exchange students in Tallinn for half a year as part of my urban-nomadic lifestyle, which was cool, and also restarted university at the age of 23 with an eye on an anthropology degree. In the midst of all this it definitely felt like I didn’t have too much time for in-depth music listening, which must inevitably take a backseat to all manner of commitments and other engagements as those develop, but when I started to put together my individual list for our annual staff’s compilation, I was surprised to find out that man, there were a lot of records this year that I really enjoyed. Sure, some heavy hitters are missing, as I still haven’t managed to check out Danny Brown, or A Tribe Called Quest’s latest, or Nick Cave, or Inter Arma for example, but all in all I’m happy that there was still so much music that resonated with me this year, as none of these albums are below a 3.5 to me. I also must say that a lot of big names, in metal especially, kind of let me down. Releases by bands like Gojira, Amon Amarth, DevilDriver, Avatar, Dark Tranquillity, Metallica, Anthrax and probably a few good others whom I’ve always enjoyed were much too safe and unexciting, but it is what it is. Most of those bands released ok albums this year, but much like in life in general, none of us should settle for conditions that are merely ok. Sputnik-wise 2016 was almost dead for me, as I got tangled up in real life commitments during the middle of the year hard, but I’ll try, if at all possible, to be a little more active in 2017; to bring you a new interview every now and then, rep deserving Estonian artists, and also reconnect with the community a bit. So without further ado, here are my top 40 records of 2016:
I hadn’t listened to this album before we started gathering individual lists for the staff compilation, but seeing as how it ended up so high on our list, and somewhat inexplicably I am a big fan of Erik Wunder’s americana side-project Man’s Gin without ever hearing Cobalt, I finally decided to give Slow Forever a go. The most important takeaway from my listening sessions has been this: I have been missing out big time, because Slow Forever is exactly the kind of grimy, heavy, rootsy listening experience that I crave for a few times in a month. It would surely be much higher on this list, had I discovered it earlier, but with regard to other albums that I’ve (mostly) enjoyed during the whole course of 2016, Slow Forever kicks off my list, instead of capping it.
Love & Hate
Kiwanuka’s introspection about his place in the world over classic soul tropes is a delight to behold. The production job by Danger Mouse is also sublime.
Above all, I like how simple and unpretentious Se Delan sound with their take on ’80s-styled goth/new wave, which is a big thing, because multi-instrumentalist Justin Greaves is far from being the most unpretentious guy, as his work – and especially his lyrics – with Crippled Black Phoenix demonstrate. This album appropriately sounds like the creators’ rendition of a classic sound, not a watered down copy of it.
Really catchy mixture of airy electronica and pop sensibilities. It’s a bit safe throughout, but undeniably gorgeous.
After the slightly disappointing The Fury of a Patient Man, Gozu are back with their best, most balls-out effort yet. Musically Revival is what you’d expect from Gozu – a steady outpour of riff rock – but the added heaviness really makes everything pop. Also, there is a song titled Lorenzo Lamas here, and I appreciate that.
Kodama is another stellar release by Alcest, but after the mesmerizing Shelter, which was one of my favorite records of 2014, and the gorgeous Escailles and Voyages albums, Kodama struggles to add anything really new to Alcest’s discography or sound. This is basically Alcest in third gear. Still really good, but some of the effect of prior releases is missing here.
The hype over these guys has really died down in Sputnik. When Shrouded Divine came out in 2008, it was a big deal. When Monolith came out in 2010 and wasn’t as good as Shrouded Divine, it was a big deal. Fastforward to 2016, and poor Afterglow has flown almost entirely under Sputnik’s collective radar. And while it’s a pretty strong metal album from beginning to end, finding a nice balance between mellower passages and guitar crunch, I can kinda see why it hasn’t had a lot of hype: Afterglow is pleasant, quite so even, but the band never built upon Shrouded Divine like many expected them to, and that album is still their crowning achievement to date.
|33||Heaven Shall Burn|
One of those albums that was very much an „expected product“ from a known artist, but this one makes the list because it was stuck in my player for longer than the output of bands such as Gojira or Dark Tranquillity. To be fair though, if you haven’t listened to Haven Shall Burn before, I’d guide you straight to Iconoclast Pt. 1. Wanderer is a nice addition to Heaven Shall Burn’s catalog, but I am afraid the band’s creative juices are drying up fast.
They describe themselves as „ritual heavy music“ and that’s a pretty apt little umbrella term for them. Zorya is a heavy riff fest throughout.
Here's to Them
It’s a deliciously dark mixture of borderline-danceable electro/drum and bass, a cinematic scope and a plethora of cool, crackling effects that swarm every track. The only thing that kinda brought the overall listening experience down a peg for me was the constant feeling of „I think they could go even darker.“
Absolute earworm of a record. The singles especially feature the kind of trap beats that you cannot get out of your head. The drop in Go Off for example gets me every time. Also, „I’m a swagaman, rollin in my swagavan, from the people’s republic of Swagistan“ is an outstanding so-bad-it’s-good line. Have used it, and have been pleased with the reactions.
|29||Crippled Black Phoenix|
Ok so I liked Se Delan because of how unpretentious it was but in all fairness I like Crippled Black Phoenix exactly because of how pretentious they are and how diverse the band’s musical output is. You can hear Anathema, Katatonia, Pink Floyd, Mogwai, and everything in between on this album. The downside to that is that you could call the band’s latest offering an amalgam of the sounds of other bands. The upside is that those bands all kick ass.
|28||Three Trapped Tigers|
Album makes me think of a guitar-centered version of synthwave. It’s plenty technical, but the atmosphere somehow ends up quite synthwave-y in my ears. And it works.
To Be Everywhere Is to Be Nowhere
Shit was nr. 19 on the users’ list ya’ll know you secretly love it.
I’ve heard plenty of people say that this is such a step down from Koi No Yokan, which only reaffirms that my idea of how I want Deftones to sound is pretty different from most’s. I think Gore is a wild improvement upon the disappointingly dull Koi No Yokan, and a very strong outing from beginning to end. On a related note, Diamond Eyes is my favorite Deftones album and Saturday Night Wrist my second favorite, if that’s anything to go by.
|25||De La Soul|
and the Anonymous Nobody...
De La Soul’s latest is somewhat inconsistent, but because it never dips into below-par territory, it’s the really good tracks that stay with you when the album reaches its close, like Royalty Capes, Property of Spitkicker.com, Greyhounds, or Exodus. There’s also an abundance of funky, laid-back beats, which is always a delight.
Doom tempos mixed together with an Oriental flavor to really satisfying results. It’s too aggressive for one to meditate to or whatnot, but as a musical experience it’s quite something. I love how the album sticks to a „journey“ tempo from the very beginning and is never in any rush to reach its destination. Eidolon is not the longest of albums, clocking in at 42 minutes, but it definitely feels like a distinct journey.
The band’s debut is one of my very favorite albums of all time, and while Nattesferd doesn’t touch it in my eyes, it still rocks harder than my 20th century washing machine that has mad hops. As far as Kvelertak can keep that going, and avoid releasing dross such as that „1985“ song, I’ll be content.
Honestly, it’s hard for me to put into words how this album sounds and do it justice in the process. I could throw around terms like „psychedelic“, „black metal“, „post-metal“,„modern death metal“ et al., but it’s really one of those albums that you must listen to for yourself. There’s a lot of blast beats, a lot of double bass, expressive, dissonant guitar playing and really cool alien atmospheres, but it’s how the album comes together as a whole that’s really the only thing which matters here. Worth giving a shot to for every metal fan.
The production is such that you can actually listen to this at high volumes through your headphones and not get a headache, as opposed to The Flesh Prevails, but idea-wise, Dreamless is not quite on par with its predecessor (or with the Nomadic EP, that I still find to be the band’s most streamlined effort). That said, Dreamless is a very, very pretty metal album, and I’m all about pretty metal albums.
Guidance is a great „heavy“ post-rock album, an exemplary follow-up to the successful Memorial, and all that, but after seeing Russian Circles live for the first time this year, I must admit that it’s there where they really, really shine. That, of course, doesn’t take anything away from the quality of Guidance though. Just one listen to Vorel should make that quality apparent.
The most brazen Wild Beasts album that I’ve heard and I dig. I’ve heard very different reactions to this album and how some people aren’t into the band’s newfound punchiness and dance-vibes, but those are exactly the things that I really enjoy about Boy King. It’s funky, it’s dancey, it’s in your face – a complete good time package.
|18||Of Roofs, Genes and Stolen Meanings|
Really cool up-and-coming Estonian math metal band that exudes plenty of emotion via the vocals. A definite rec from me to the community. Check it on bandcamp: https://ofroofsgenesandstolenmeanings.bandcamp.com/
What One Becomes
The heaviest album on this list, as ex-Isis mastermind Aaron Turner continues to put out cream of the crop material. What One Becomes is an instrumentally visceral sludge/post-metal album, and the production job by Kurt Ballou is crushing as always. Listening to What One Becomes is like being in a 12-round heavy-weight boxing match: the album attacks you, then plods along for a while, jabbing and poking, hoping to catch you off-guard with its subsequent pummeling section that you know is, at one point, coming.
|16||Red Hot Chili Peppers|
As I’ve explained to my co-workers before, the band on The Getaway is a band who, to my ears, is aging gracefully. Apart from new boy Josh Klinghoffer, who has been a part of the line-up for only the last two studio albums, the guys in Red Hot Chilli Peppers are decidedly into their 50s already, and you can’t expect them to come out with the type of super energetic funk rock that made them famous, and expect it to sound authentic. The Getaway is a very fresh sounding album from old dogs – much like this year’s Iggy Pop album, which would be about my #41 album for the year – and while there are undoubtedly many who are unsatisfied with RHCP cruising instead of rocking, I’m perfectly fine with that. Long live RHCP, long live Anthony Kiedis’ perplexing ’stash.
Because I’m lazy, then I’m going to plagiarize myself, and re-state that Rheia is a testament to how post-metal can be so much more than a vague catch-all term for some metal bands with a similar sound, it can be an experience all unto itself. Rheia is the musical equivalent of a purge.
The Impossible Kid
Aes’ new record was probably my favorite hip hop album from 2016. Granted, I don’t listen to an excessive amount of hip-hop, but The Impossible Kid was really, really good. Musically it’s a lighter affair than Aesop Rock’s previous cd Skelethon, and that probably also makes it more accessible to near everybody, as the songs sound spry and inviting. That said, lyrically Aesop here is still the typical Aesop and can go introspectively dark with his lines, like „When you wake up 8 years non-responsive / it's a lot to process / Gone from a happier jack-in-the-box / to a package of clogged up chakras“. The album deals with a somewhat loaded topic - childhood and how we reflect on it or yearn for it as time goes by - one that we will all undoubtedly confront at one point in our lives. It’s comforting to know that some chill music can come out of that. Cue the beat in TUFF.
|13||Elephants From Neptune|
Elephants From Neptune’s album, as it turns out, is my favorite 2016 Estonian release, and I did not see that coming, because prior to this album I found the local hype around the group to be totally unwarranted, with the band sounding like wannabe rockstars to me. In just two years though, something magical happened, and on Oh No Elephants From Neptune do sound like legitimate rockstars. In between the two Elephants From Neptune’s records the band’s frontman Robert Linna also released an album with his funk rock side project Lexsoul Dancemachine, which was a proper James Brown-influenced banger, and it seems he managed to carry that level of enthusiasm over to he Elephants’ latest offering, because Oh No is an undeniably infectious rock record, the kind that if it was made in the UK and in the ’60s, it would have been an international hit for sure. What can I say, fake it ’til you make it indeed.
Runaljod – Ragnarok
Wardruna’s neo-folk sounds so damn primordial and bewitching, I love it. If you take this album with you on a camping trip to wilderness, the environment starts to feel absolutely surreal sooner or later, that’s a promise.
"Awaken, My Love!"
I unashamedly like everything that Childish does, on the screen or in my ears. His transformation from hip-hop to funk on this album feels very natural to me, with Gambino sounding confident and very much in his element. You may like it, or think Awaken is absolute hogwash, but the following idea which I read somewhere online (can’t remember for the life of me where) summarizes the album best in my opinion: like it or not, at least Childish Gambino is introducing classic funk to younger generations via Awaken, My Love!. That’s really cool indeed.
|10||The 69 Eyes|
I’ve always been a big fan of this band, but for a while I was worried that their gothic side will entirely disappear in favor of bland glam rock and weird, somehow un-gothy melodramatics, as those elements had become dominating on their last two albums. Universal Monsters brings back the earnest goth rock side of the band that made me become a fan in the first place, and I cannot be more enthused about it. These guys are undoubtedly at their best when they ditch their unwavering love for Ramones and dig deeper into their „Helsinki Vampires“ essence. Universal Monsters is a proper return to form – a record chock-full of mid-paced goth rock anthems – and the band’s best album in well over a decade. There’s still lust for the dark and the romantic left in these vampires.
Rotting Christ’s stellar run of albums, that started with 2007’s Theogonia, continues with this year’s Rituals. The album was received here in a surprisingly negative fashion, since sound-wise, while it is a little simpler and more power-chord orientated, Rituals doesn’t differ much from 2013’s spectacular Kata ton Daimona Eautou. That is especially true for the feel of the album as a whole and the atmosphere it conjures, which sounds like a direct progression from its predecessor. It took me a bit longer to warm up to it, I’ll admit, but in the end I think Rituals is another coup for the band, and Elthe Kyrie is a strong song of the year candidate in my eyes. These guys know how to mix black metal, gothic undertones, and a distinctly Greek flavor like no other.
The North Corridor
Chevelle are one of my go-to bands whenever I want to listen to some well-composed, stomping modern rock music. The North Corridor is the band’s heaviest album to date, and it’s mixed in a way that it’s just a very loud record to listen to, but because there isn’t an overabundance of things happening, the loudness of the mix never becomes distracting. This is a simple but smartly composed rock record with tracks that will get your blood pumping every time, guaranteed. It was also probably my second most listened to album this year, in total, after my post-rock AOTY. Songs like Last Days, Warhol’s Showbiz and Got Burned were great sleep-beaters.
The band has probably never sounded better than on Winter’s Gate, which is a pretty big compliment to a group who have a recognizable sound and are already onto LP nr. 7. The fact that Winter’s Gate is a concept album is an added boon, and probably helped the band space out all of the elements which make up their sound. Winter’s Gate exhibits great balance between masterful atmosphere creation and equally masterful metal. It doesn’t top Shadows of the Dying Sun for me, an album that I have an immense emotional connection with, but by all means and purposes, it is an absolute epic of melodeath. Amon Amarth better up their game, because Winter’s Gate blew Jomsviking right out of the water when it comes to last year’s „concept albums about vikings“ bout.
|6||Harakiri for the Sky|
It might be overlong for some when taking into account that the album is a bit of a one trick pony, but what a trick it is. Harakiri For The Sky is a self-deprecating band, and they will let you know about it at the top of their lungs, with pummeling, heart-wrenching atmospheric metal providing a dramatic backdrop. One of the more draining listens of the year, but ultimately one of the most rewarding as well. If Oathbreaker’s Rheia sounded like a musical purge to me, then Trauma is the musical equivalent of taking on all of your demons at once. It’s a truly intense record steeped deep in emotional turmoil.
As good as Insomnium’s latest album was, it’s Be’lakor who produced the most memorable, the most grandiose, and the most noteworthy melodic death metal album of the year, full of sweeping guitar leads and marvelous compositions. This is the Australians’ fourth LP, all of which are superb, and I really hope that getting a deal with Napalm Records will help to spread the word about these guys, because along with the aforementioned Insonium, Be’lakor are probably the most dependable melodeath band around. An Ember’s Arc is just...pure magic.
Another year, another Mechina release, and another winner in my eyes. Just as I wrote in my last year’s list, listening to Mechina makes you feel like you are in the middle of an intergalactic war, with all its bombast and intricacies right in front of you. Joe Tiberi has a clear idea what kind of music he wants to create, and he composes it with enviable speed and quality. It’s a fixation, but a fixation I and thousands of others share with him. Seeing as how there’s really no other band around who sounds like Mechina, then the fact that Tiberi’s formula has pretty much stayed the same for 5 albums now isn’t bothersome either. If you’ve hit gold, it makes sense to keep digging.
|3||If These Trees Could Talk|
The Bones of a Dying World
My post-rock AOTY. When I first heard TBOADW I instantly fell in love with it, thinking that it’s the best thing the band has ever done. Then I listened to it too much and wore it out for myself. Then, in October or so, I rediscovered the album’s merits again and am back to thinking that it’s the best thing the band have ever done. It’s not as mindblowing as last year’s Caspian record was, which is still an absolutely unbelievable record, but TBOADW ebbs and flows with such enviable consistency and strength that it is impossible to deny. In the real world, outside of the never-pleased forum dwelling communities, I have legit not met a person who isn’t at least a little intrigued by what he/she hears on TBOADW.
All Our Gods Have Abandoned Us
Again, not to wear myself out, I’m gonna quote my own blurb from our collective end of the year list: „The culmination of a portfolio. A realization of maturity. Something old, something new. Architects’ latest offering is many things, all of which speak fondly of how far a once-little metalcore band full of hungry teenagers have come in the last ten years: from the basement to massive, packed concert halls. All Our Gods Have Abandoned Us is musically measured but emotionally raw, deeply personal but with the aim to unite, technically proficient but instantly captivating. An enviable match between gripping music and poignant social commentary, it’s an album that grabs you by the neck, thrusts you into a chair, and makes you listen. To the aches, the sounds of struggle, and the things that we should all aim to improve.“
It’s not that I am disappointed where I am in life, but sometimes it’s cool to imagine yourself in another place entirely. Music has the ability to transcend you to those places. Saor’s latest is a perfect companion and guide to my visions of what the idyllic Scottish landscapes must be like, and as always, I do not fail to appreciate the mixture of the heavy and the graceful, of beauty becoming apparent in the beast. Guardians is an absolute metal opus that gets everything right, knowing exactly when to center aggression and when to let a beautiful violin/guitar melody lead the way. As long as you fancy flutes in your metal, you cannot go wrong with this record. It does indeed take you to a place where the grass is green and the girls are pretty, if you let it.
|As always, I wait until the year in review has fully passed to put up my best-of list, and hey, it got Cobalt here! How's 2017 treating everyone so far?|
|v nice list bro|
|8! Good stuff|
|fantastic list |
|nice variety my boi|
|i agree with your description for 16......a nice simple and short popish album.....no need for an 80 minute endeavor|