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My 10 Favorite Albums of 2016

Definitely subject to change over time. There was plenty of material to listen to this year, and although I didn't listen to nearly as much as I would've liked, I made a greater effort than I normally do. Hopefully 2017 brings more proactive listening out of me.
10Trees, Clouds & Silence
Trees, Clouds & Silence

This band was one of the ways I discovered the YouTube channel Atmospheric Black Metal Albums, and this band came up when I was looking for something similar to Alcest, but perhaps more metal. The artwork stood out and I found myself taken in by the harsh yet relaxing nature of the music. There may be other, more deserving bands of this spot, but I'd like to see where this band goes in the future, and this debut showcases more than enough potential to keep my eyes peeled.
Brotherhood of the Snake

Pure, aggressive thrash metal with little intent to let up. Testament are arguably the most venerable band to have contributed to the 80's thrash metal movement, and are rekindling its core spirit more than the Big Four.
For All Kings

Despite my comments about Testament, I do think Anthrax crafted the more varied and interesting album, objectively speaking. Testament are doing thrash metal better than any of their colleagues, but Anthrax are doing thrash-inspired heavy metal in a way that works for them. What holds this album back from being put a little higher is Belladonna, I can't get behind his vocals.
The Fall of Hearts

I don't want to give too much away on this album since I'd like to do a Katatonia discography review before long, but since I feel each of their albums deserves considerable time to fully absorb, it will likely take some time. What I will say about The Fall of Hearts is that it feels like the band are matured, restrained and self-aware. It offers more than you'd expect, but less than you'd hope.

My mention of Alcest earlier wasn't merely coincidental; Kodama is true reminder of how sweet it is to indulge in a new Alcest release. The time between one album and the next often feels longer than it is, and I believe that's thanks to how simplistically serene Neige is able to craft his soundscapes. And with Kodoma, the time leading up to whatever he does next is going to feel even worse, because he treads on masterpiece territory here. If only it weren't a song or two too short.

Be'lakor are handily establishing themselves as one of the strongest, most consistent acts in modern melodic death metal (with a touch of prog). Vessels sees them back off the bombast from Of Breath and Bone, crafting something that feels like a more fluid successor to Stone's Reach. This approach makes the music feel more sophisticated, but part of me does miss the epic fun factor they bolstered before. Regardless, Vessels is another excellent piece and a sure sign that these guys will become a key face of their genre for years to come.
4Fates Warning
Theories of Flight

I feel a little guilty putting this on my list, not because it doesn't deserve a spot, it absolutely does, but because it's currently the only Fates Warning album I've heard. I have nothing to compare it to, which may or may not explain my immediate fondness for it. This is the kind of progressive music I think more bands can learn from, the kind that has layers but doesn't exist simply to show off or be a technical showcase. Every track has a fluidity to it. The line between rock and metal is walked so naturally here, it's almost staggering. I'm both interested and a little concerned to see what other Fates Warning albums will have to offer me as I begin to expand my still-small music library.

I compared this album to The Black Halo when it first came out. A tall comparison, for sure, and although the album's initial flair has worn off of me a bit, I still stand by my stance that this is an excellent slice of power. What I've come to appreciate about this album over time, however, is its consistency in variety and style. Each track is distinct, which makes picking favorites easy, but they each have their place, and all of them have crept into my mind like a forever-familiar tune to hum and even sing to.
Jumalten Aika

Just like Fates Warning, this is the first time I've given Moonsorrow a go, but I somehow feel less guilty about my thoughts on this album. Part of it may be that their self-proclaimed "Pagan metal" style feels a little more familiar to me, like a slow black/death metal hybrid. Normally an album with songs as long as these that all fundamentally sound alike would leave me disinterested in a number of spots, ultimately giving it a mark of appreciation more than a mark of liking. Jumalten Aika manages to make both like and appreciate it. A lot. It feels epic and haunted at the same time, with fleeting catchy moments allowing me to become pulled in every time (5 minutes into Mimisbrunn comes to mind). It feels meaty, carrying heft for a lengthy period of time, but never to the point that it feels like a chore. When I finish Jumalten Aika, I feel I've had a proper, sizable portion of metal.
Winter's Gate

So...yeah, was not expecting Insomnium of all bands to even crack a mention in any Favorite Album list of mine. Even though the only other album I've heard by them is Above the Weeping World, I've heard a few songs scattered throughout the rest of their discography. My general impression of them has been that they're serviceable, but not interesting enough to warrant a full album listen, unless they did something really interesting. Now, Winter's Gate is the opposite of a boundary-pusher, but what it does do it does incredibly well. Somehow Insominum managed to take a melodic death metal style that normally wouldn't make me think twice and somehow become intoxicated. In the month or two since I give it my first listen, it's easily made me come back for another beginning-to-end listen more than any other album this year. Each section of the album transitions in ways that you know you're entering another part, but it feels so seamless, so enchanting, so proper for Winter.
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