- Alex Amuraritei
- Dayv Oblyvyon
- Jim Parry-Smith
- Joshua Hall
- Josh Lee
- Neil Criddle
- Nick Dunn
- Psyniac White
- Stuart Wain
- Tom Woodward-Massey
There is an almost poetic justice in how 2016 has been an abysmal year in terms of politics, the economy and the keen loss of many people who shaped us (both personally and as heroes of their respective industries), and yet been a jaw-dropping year in terms of quality music released. From the great names to the greats-in-waiting, the onslaught of excellent albums has been overwhelming. One could spend most of 2017 checking out stuff missed from 2016 – and perhaps we will pursue this, in part – but let this article serve as a highlight reel of some of our writers personal favorites from this year.
This article aside, we will be taking a break for the next few weeks – to recover from Christmas decadence, and to prepare plans for the next stage of site development. Thanks for checking out Broken Amp, and keep an eye on us for 2017 – we’ve got big news on the way.
– Mark Angel Brandt, Editor
Admittedly, 2016 has been a fairly slow year for me, at least musically. Even though I’ve not heard a lot, a good chunk of what I’ve actually listened to has been fairly disappointing – the new Whitechapel and Gojira come to mind. The year isn’t even over yet (I’m looking at you Betraying The Martyrs), but as far as Meshuggah go, my high expectations have been fulfilled with a solid album from start to finish.
While it still is a difficult pick, my reasoning mainly revolves around consistency. While some albums have one or two well-written bangers surrounded by substantially empty fillers, such as Neberu’s sophomore, in contrast to their debut which I praised [read the review here], The Violent Sleep of Reason starts off heavy and stays heavy. ‘Clockworks’ truly is an hors d’argh, which sets the tone for the remaining nine songs, ending in a scary yet buttery smooth decay of sanity in F Major Grooves. Having spent just under three decades developing their sound, Meshuggah’s latest album is a fitting addition, and hopefully not a conclusion, to their discography.
Close but no cigar:
Car Bomb – Meta
A little too hectic for my tastes, but you owe it to yourself to listen to the second track, the guitar sounds are incredibly filthy!
生 Conform 死  – Vol I – Cigarette Lullaby
A perfect blend of I, Valiance, Humanity’s Last Breath and a cloudy Korn/Bizkit cocktail, I just wish it weren’t so short!
The Weeknd – Starboy
For when you get bored of metal like I do and just bop to Abel’s cheesy-funk anthems, occasionally accompanied by Daft Punk. Daringly catchy the whole way through, featuring a smile-inducing final track and a perfectly composed chord progression within. This would have been my first pick if the title of the article didn’t include the word “heavy” in it.
1. Otherwise known as Live, Conform, Die.
The general consensus may be that 2016 was an awful year, but it was an amazing year for black metal. Whilst Abbath’s solo debut got things off to a rollicking start, this was followed by any number of truly excellent albums – While Wildernessking’s Mystical Future was an early contender for the top spot, it was swiftly overtaken by jaw-droppingly good records from more established acts like Behexen [review here], Inquisition [review here], and Imperium Dekadenz [review here]. On top of these, the self-styled ‘ineffable kings of black metal’, Dark Funeral also dropped Where Shadows Forever Reign, their best album yet.
But in the end, nearly 30 years of experience has paid off and Rotting Christ’s Rituals album is the clear winner for my album of the year. Varied, intellectual, engaging and deeply irreligious, Sakis Tolis’ 12th full-length builds on everything he’s done before and delivers some wonderful nods to black metal’s history – as well as giving a glimpse into what its future could hold. Sure, there are plenty of naysayers (perhaps more within the black metal fold than any other sub-genre) that will question the relevance of any band outside of Scandinavia vying for honours within this genre, but Rotting Christ stay true to the founding principles (the ‘cultivation of Chaos and Darkness, as described by Erik Danielsson of Watain) of the black metal movement on this album. Read my review in full here.
Close but no cigar:
Musically-speaking, 2016 has proven to be one of the strongest years in recent history for me. I could list scores of albums that have blown me away over the past twelve months, but one in particular has been at the top of my list since its release back in April.
Much of Cult of Luna‘s discography would have made any list of mine in their respective release years, but this may be the first time the band have claimed my number one spot, eclipsing even the superlative, forward-thinking vastness that was 2013’s Vertikal. Their transatlantic collaboration with Julie Christmas this time around was an inspired move, and with Julie’s track record for channelling nerve-shredding fragility and harrowing emotion through her versatile vocal performances, Mariner was always destined to be something very special.
Despite the substantial distance between the two parties’ homelands and the fact that meeting in person was logistically impossible at the time of writing the album, Mariner feels incredibly instinctual. Every song from opener ‘A Greater Call’ through to the weighty finale of ‘Cygnus’ is a stunning example of crushing atmospheric sludge metal made all the more brilliant through the extra layers of melody and extremity that Julie’s vocals bring to the fore, especially when combined with Johannes’ formidable roar. The phenomenal centrepiece ‘The Wreck of the S.S. Needle’ cements Mariner as a true classic that will surely stand proud at the apex of both Cult of Luna’s and Julie Christmas’ already astounding back catalogues.
Close but no cigar:
There are so many releases I could list here, but special mentions have to go out to the intense grind of Wormrot’s Voices [review here], the brilliantly melody-driven, riff-heavy black metal of Uada’s Devoid of Light, the game-changing Rheia from Belgians Oathbreaker, the unbridled fury of Cobalt’s Slow Forever and the unrelenting, all-encompassing, cacophonous clusterfuck that is the mighty Anaal Nathrakh’s The Whole of The Law [review here]. Finally, it would be impossible for me to forget Devin Townsend‘s strongest album for quite a while: the amazing Transcendence.
Every year grants me with an exciting, musical surprise. Thankfully, 2016 landed me with a lot more than expected. The pinnacle, however, came with Edinburgh’s noise-rock, chaos-inducing, vomit-sampling mathcore-ers BRITNEY, who smashed my ears and brain with their third record BRITN3Y.
It’s unconventional entertaining. The band, consisting of shrieking, octave shifting vocals, harmonised and manipulated distorted bass, and punishing drums sounded as tight as, well, you know the rest. Despite being punishingly chaotic at times; from the real-to-life throwing up in ‘Sleep Now Dogman’, to ‘Neon Python’ and its angry, punctuated stabs, it remains gloriously good fun. As issued by the video ‘I.I.A.H.S.W.E.S’ – possibly my favourite song of the year – it’s clear that the band themselves are self-knowingly vile, but have an absolute ball with it.
I can’t get over how many times I listen to this record and remain amazed at how weirdly fun it is. Bravo Scotland. Read my full review here.
Close, but no cigar…
Death Grips – Bottomless Pit
Experimental hip-hop act Death Grips produce my favourite album to date. Considering I didn’t enjoy The Powers That B as much as I hoped, Bottomless Pit surpassed all expectation with an album that from front to back is varied, hook-worthy and, for the most part, totally accessible; even with ‘Hot Head’ existing on the track list.
65daysofstatic – No Man’s Sky: Music For An Infinite Universe [read my review here]
No Man’s Sky was a disappointment; the soundtrack, however, is anything but. Although the latter half of the album may not like the “explosion” of the first, tracks like ‘Monolith’ are pretty much perfect examples of post-rock. For a genre that’s so saturated with similarities, 65dos absolutely pulled off something refreshing and exciting.
Future of the Left – The Peace & Truce of Future of the Left
With lines like “If twenty therapists want to tempt me with their tit rings / they should know that I have a werewolf and the sense to use it”, there should be no reason to skip out on Future of the Left’s latest stellar release. As funny as ever, the post-hardcorers deliver catchy, dancey, quirky music once more.
Choosing my favourites from the plethora of brilliant records this year has been nothing short of agonising, but the stand-out metal release for me has to be Oranssi Pazuzu’s Värähtelijä. A brooding and heavy album that mostly manages to side-step the ‘black metal’ tag altogether, one of Värähtelijä’s greatest strengths is its ability to assimilate its eclectic influences into its multi-faceted dark, cavernous music effortlessly. Points on this album are reminiscent of Scott Walker’s more recent works, music that clearly seeks to unnerve the listener. Oranssi Pazuzu’s songwriting is certainly flexed on this album as well too, making full use of multi-faceted song structures strung together seamlessly. One can only wonder how much further Oranssi Pazuzu will venture outside of black metal, and where they will find themselves next.
Close but no cigar:
Altarage – Nihl
A cacophonous, oppressive death metal record that’s possibly one of the most suffocating listening experiences I’ve ever had.
Lycus – Chasms
Slow, mournful funeral doom on Lycus’ sophomore record. Seamlessly transitioning between haunting and intense, dragging the listener into a deep mire of despair on Chasms.
Saor – Guardians
A grandiose and epic folk-black-metal odyssey, Guardians boasts some of Saor’s best work yet, beautifully evocative of Scottish history and its natural landscape.
Initially created in 2014 as a collaborative project of a bunch of random individuals, you could excuse cynics for thinking that Swedish hard rock troupe Normandie are a stereotypically manufactured musical venture. What would be remiss to do is to not listen the output that the band have generated since their inception.
The group demonstrate an exciting blend of soothing hard rock melody and metallic guitar-infused heaviness that combine to produce anthemic, groove-laden music. With all members of the band responsible for various parts of the writing process, the characteristics of Normandie’s sound never dulls throughout the ten tracks of this debut full-length. Influences such as 30 Seconds To Mars, Young Guns and even Don Broco are clearly heard on ‘Collide’ and “Awakening”, showcasing huge vocal deliveries against a backdrop of lingering atmospheric grooviness and emotive melody. The backing vocals on “Collide” particularly compliment the sumptuous guitar interplay.
With the departure of their slightly “heavier” co-vocalist, debut record Inguz is the mark of a slight transition away from their previous EP release. Despite this, whether it be the call-to-arms chorus and passionately emotive lyrics of ‘Fight’ or the groovy breakdown segued into electronica-fuelled hard rock of ‘Calling’, Normandie display an interesting variety of techniques to burrow into the listener’s minds. There’s just so much for the listener to grab hold of and remember here.
Top Five of 2016:
1 Metallica Hardwired… To Self Destruct
2 Normandie Inguz
3 Toothgrinder Nocturnal Masquerade
4 Black Peaks Statues
5 Black Crown Initiate Selves We Cannot Forgive
2016 has been an incredibly turbulent year by all accounts, but musically, it’s been my favourite year yet of the twenty-five I’ve now lived. I experienced an actual festival for the first time with Download Festival, and experienced the almost religious bliss of seeing Sólstafir live [report here]. Khemmis, Blues Pills, Witchcraft, and Winterfylleth all released good new albums, and I discovered the warm post-rock embrace of If These Trees Could Talk. The release of Proponent for Sentience by Allegaeon was something I hadn’t anticipated in amongst this year’s releases, but quickly became my album of the year from the moment it came out.
In the midst of perilous financial difficulty – resulting in a Patreon being set up to fund their ongoing efforts – and the always-awkward hurdle of a new vocalist, the Denver face-melters managed to construct one of the most technically-perfect, melodious, and downright beautiful technical melodic death metal albums ever. The ecstatic review I did for Broken Amp doesn’t quite do it justice: Allegaeon really have captured everything I’ve ever wanted in a death metal album.
Close but no cigar:
Rudely pushed from the top spot was the second album from retro-rockers Blues Pills, Lady in Gold. The titular track of this 60s nostalgia ride is still my Song of the Year, and holds the rare distinction of being a song that actively makes me want to dance. It’s also a ridiculously cheerful song about Death, which isn’t a sentence you thought you read often.
This album made me sit down and ask myself a pressing question of the “chicken/egg” kind. Do Every Time I Die claim my AOTY spot every two years because they’re my favourite band, or are they my favourite band because they remain so effortlessly consistent? Low Teens is the seventh release from the enigmatic New York outfit, and yet again it defies all lofty expectations, no matter how lofty.
The debut performance of new stickman Daniel Davison (formerly of Underoath, Norma Jean et al) is a stand-out; full of intricacies that make Every Time I Die’s feverish variety all the deeper, and Panic! at the Disco’s Brendan Urie makes a timeless contribution to ‘It Remembers’. However, it’s Keith Buckley that once again steals the show. In the wake of great personal trauma in December 2015, Buckley delivers the best vocal performance of his career, and sharpens his wordsmith wit yet again with some truly clever, bitingly honest lyrics.
Low Teens creates another shade for the band’s palette; taking the untamed rage from the two previous releases whilst reintroducing the sleaze and rock ‘n’ roll swagger (complete with cowbell) from the band’s heyday. Better still, album closer ‘Map Change’ offers insight to a new style that the band could explore as they close in on twenty years of dominance.
Close but no cigar:
The Dillinger Escape Plan – Dissociation
A fitting end to the band, but can we do less mourning of Dillinger’s finite career and more celebrating of this incredible, genre-defining record?
letlive. – If I’m the Devil…
One of the best rock bands in the world today, letlive. have dared to diversify and deliver a smorgasbord of unique ideas that is bound to make you feel something.
Zoax – Zoax
If you check out any album this year, make it the best debut in years. Zoax already have a fully-formed identity and personality; echoing moments of System of a Down, Against Me!, Billy Talent… who wouldn’t want that?
There’ve been a lot of great albums released this year, but this is the one which impressed me most and left the deepest mark. Based upon the novel We by Yevgeny Zamyatin, For This We Fought… is a beautiful, tragic reflection upon freedom, loss, deception and love. The use of twin violins along with the more ‘traditional’ doom instruments feels more cohesive than on previous albums, and the song-writing is every bit as strong as on previous album More Constant Than The Gods (an album that saw SubRosa become one of my favourite bands). Fittingly given the source of inspiration, there is a deep anxiety buried in the album, and there are plenty of mournful movements. Yet, there is also plenty of beauty to be found, a masterful sense of dynamics, and a prime demonstration how to have a concept evolve across the course of a song and album. In closer ‘Troubled Cells’, it also features one of the year’s most moving songs against hate, a rejection of privilege if it means others must go without, offering strength and support to those being discriminated against. It’s depressing how many of the themes of a 1920’s dystopian novel are relevant to the world today, but with For This We Fought…, SubRosa have provided an album deep in hope, compassion, and catharsis.
Close but no cigar:
Planes Mistaken For Stars – Prey
The first new album since their reformation in 2010 from a band who mean so much to me. As passionate as ever, with a few new tricks to add to their noisy post-hardcore repertoire.
Palace Of Worms – The Ladder
An absolute revelation of an album, taking black metal in to ambitious, progressive territories with deeply emotional and cathartic songs.
Morrow – Covenant Of Teeth
Combining post-metal with crust into four long songs rooted in environmental and apocalyptic themes, this album combines intelligence with strong emotional heft.
Invehertex – Hacia el Vórtice
Delightfully inaccessible, this 78-minute whirlwind of soul-crushing black metal makes almost everything else released this year sound straightforward.
The Body have once again confirmed they are one of the most ground-breaking groups in contemporary metal thanks to No One Deserves Happiness, “the grossest pop album ever made”. The Portland based two-piece are known for blending noise, industrial, and hip hop with drone metal in addition to their collaborations with numerous acts including Full Of Hell, The Haxan Cloak, Thou and Krieg. No One Deserves Happiness sees the band constructing a bizarre take on pop music by adding clean singing into a mix of dense rhythms, 808 drum machine beats, soundscapes manipulated by noise and banshee like wails. The pairing of misanthropic drone metal and instrumentation seldom seen in the genre (cellos, drum machines, trombones and art-pop style vocals) ultimately creates an overall mood of uneasiness that chills to the bone. The Body are certainly not for the light-hearted, but No One Deserves Happiness serves as an ideal starting point for the act thanks to its flirtations with pop, leading to their most fully realised album to date.
Close but no cigar:
Black Mountain – IV
A stoner rock album heavily indebted to psychedelia and spacey prog, my first taste of Black Mountain was a treat for sure.
Oranssi Pazuzu – Värähtelijä
Brilliantly accomplished psychedelic black metal.