Saturday, December 31, 2016

16s for '16.

My Top 16x2 Metal Albums of 2016

01. Deströyer 666 (Au) Wildfire
02. Voivod (Ca) Post-Society
03. Virus (No) Memento Collider
04. Ihsahn (No) Arktis.
05. Hail Spirit Noir (Gr) Mayhem in Blue
06. Mouth of the Architect (US) Path of Eight
07. Whipstriker (Br) Only Filth Will Prevail
08. High Spirits (US) Motivator
09. Opeth (Se) Sorceress
10. Lesbian (US) Hallucinogenesis
11. Howls of Ebb (US) Cursus Impasse: The Pendlomic Vows
12. Deathspell Omega (Fr) The Synarchy of Molten Bones
13. Hammers of Misfortune (US) Dead Revolution
14. Oranssi Pazuzu (Fi) Varahtelija
15. Sumerlands (US) Sumerlands
16. Paradox (De) Pangea
17. Vanhelgd (Se) Temple of Phobos
18. Morgue Supplier (US) Morgue Supplier
19. Borknagar (No) Winter Thrice
20. Khemmis (US) Hunted
21. Chthe'ilist (Ca) Le dernier crepuscule
22. Cadaveric Fumes (Fr) Dimensions Obscure
23. Spell (Ca) For None and All
24. Gravebreaker (Se) Sacrifice
25. Blood Incantation (US) Starspawn
26. Reptilian (No) Perennial Void Traverse
27. Zaum (Ca) Eidolon
28. Eternal Champion (US) The Armor of Ire
29. Witherscape (Se) The Northern Sanctuary
30. Stilla (Se) Skuggflock
31. The Levitation Hex (Au) Cohesion
32. Miasmal (Se) Tides of Omniscience

As usual, there's a much longer list over at RYM with brief descriptions of each, but not in any sort of hierarchical order. Sample size was 758 albums and EPs that I listened through in 2016, and for the first time, I'm actually combining both formats into one single list (the Voivod really was that good).

My Top 16 Non-Metal Albums of 2016

01. White Lung (Ca) Paradise
02. Perturbator (Fr) The Uncanny Valley
03. A Tribe Called Quest (US) We Got it From Here...
04. Weezer (US) The White Album
05. Wardruna (No) Runaljod - Ragnarok
06. Youth Code (US) Commitment to Complications
07. King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizzard (Au) Nonagon Infinity
08. Radiohead (UK) A Moon Shaped Pool
09. The Neon Demon Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
10. David Bowie (UK) Blackstar
11. Street Sects (US) End Position
12. Strvngers (Ca) Sonic Erotica
13. Phantogram (US) THREE
14. Kanga (US) Kanga
15. Bat for Lashes (UK) The Bride
16. Death Grips (US) Bottomless Pit

My Top 16 New Movies of 2016

01. Kubo and the Two Strings
02. Midnight Special
03. The Handmaiden
04. The Revenant
05. Your Name
06. Zootopia
07. Captain Fantastic
08. Captain America: Civil War
09. Approaching the Unknown
10. The Lobster
11. Batman: The Killing Joke
12. 10 Cloverfield Lane
13. The Nice Guys
14. Hacksaw Ridge
15. Deadpool
16. Doctor Strange

My Top 16 New Games on a Screen in 2016

01. The Witness (PC, PS4, Xone, iOS)
02. Civilization VI (PC)
03. Dishonored 2 (PC, PS4, Xone)
04. Stardew Valley (PC, PS4, Xone)
05. Salt & Sanctuary (PC, PS4, Vita)
06. Total War: Warhammer (PC)
07. Hyper Light Drifter (PC, PS4, Xone, Ouya)
08. The Banner Saga 2 (PC, PS4, Xone, iOS, Android)
09. Firewatch (PC, PS4, Xone)
10. Ratchet & Clank (PS4)
11. Darkest Dungeon (PC, PS4, Vita)
12. Enter the Gungeon (PC, PS4)
13. Dark Souls III (PC, PS4, Xone)
14. World of Warcraft: Legion (PC)
15. Final Fantasy XV (PS4, Xone)
16. Starbound (PC, PS4, Vita, Xone)

My Top 16 New Games on a Tabletop in 2016

01. 7th Sea 2nd Edition (RPG)
02. Inis (board game)
03. Clank (board game)
04. Oceanos (board game)
05. Quadropolis (board game)
06. Aeon's End (board game)
07. Arkham Horror (card game)
08. Manhattan Project: Energy Empire (board game)
09. Mansions of Madness 2nd Edition (board game)
10. Pandemic: Reign of Cthulhu (board game)
11. Oracle of Delphi (board game)
12. Imhotep (board game)
13. Star Trek Panic (board game)
14. Gods of the Fall (RPG)
15. Jorvik (board game)
16. Odin's Ravens 2nd Edition (card game)

My Top 16 New Novels for 2016

01. China Mieville The Last Days of New Paris
02. Guy Gavriel Kay Children of Earth and Sky
03. Steven Erikson Fall of Light (Khakanas #2)
04. John Langan The Fisherman
05. Dan Vyleta Smoke
06. R. Scott Bakker The Great Ordeal (Aspect-Emperor #3)
07. Aaron Dembski-Bowden The Master of Mankind (Horus Heresy #41)
08. Alan Moore Jerusalem
09. Yoon Ha Lee The Ninefox Gambit
10. Brian Staveley The Last Mortal Bond (Unhewn Bond #3)
11. Bradley P. Beaulieu Twelve Kings in Sharakhai (Shattered Sands #1)
12. John C. Wright The Vindication of Man (Countdown #4)
13. Adrian Tchaikovsky Spiderlight
14. Drew Magary The Hike
15. Mark Lawrence The Wheel of Osheim (Red Queen's War #3)
16. Lily Brooks-Dalton Good Morning, Midnight

My Top 16 New Comics for 2016
01. Weird Detective (Dark Horse)
02. Future Quest (DC)
03. Black Hammer (Dark Horse)
04. Black Road (Image)
05. Batman TMNT (DC/IDW)
06. Rough Riders (Aftershock)
07. Batman: Europa (DC)
08. Over the Garden Wall (kaboom!)
09. Lake of Fire (Image)
10. Midnighter and Apollo (DC)
11. Moon Knight (Marvel)
12. The Black Monday Murders (Image)
13. Doom Patrol (DC/Young Animal)
14. 4001 A.D. (Valiant)
15. The Dark Knight III: The Master Race (DC)
16 Star Wars: Doctor Aphra (Marvel)

This is a new category I'm trying out, for titles with 2 or more new issues this year.

Was also going to do a new TV shows list, but it'd be pretty short...

Stranger Things
Son of Zorn
Justice League Action

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Putrified - The Flesh. The Scythe. The Tomb. EP (2016)

It's always welcome to hear a Swedish death metal band that does not necessarily conform to the prevalent trends of that country, which is of course the endless recycling of ideas set forth by the luminaries Entombed and Dismember to the point that they've become tiresome when not written and performed exquisitely. Now, to be fair, that DOES still happen from time to time, but I've long been more interested in the groups like Repugnant, Necrovation, Corrosive Carcass or Bastard Priest who marry some of those predictable aesthetics to something other than the pure tone-driven schematics so many of the 4th and 5th generation impersonators live and die on. Putrified, a younger band with a couple demos and EPs under their belt, does at least fall into this camp, even if the material on The Flesh. The Scythe. The Tomb. isn't exactly super catchy or mind blowing.

They do rely on some familiar tropes like a couple thrusting D-beat rhythms, but even there they do so more from the hardcore/punk side than the death metal of their peers. Vocally I am reminded of the legendary Martin van Drunen, with a caustic and grotesque growl that feels like the singer's entrails are being unraveled while he is recording, albeit not quite so bloody or memorable. Guitars are dirty but they don't employ the same precise HM-2 tone you've become too overly accustomed to. That said, they're not beyond mixing things up, as they do with their B-side acoustic segues dubbed the "Maleficium" duo. The drums are tinny and intense, and the band also employs a little more of a forceful melodic bent that, when combined with the raving vocals and raw speed, verges on a more intense black or war metal aesthetic which also adds some much needed variation. It's all cast in the gloom of that ages old sort of primal production value which will inevitable render it timeless, not because all the songs are amazing but just because it feels so pure.

Second half of the EP, minus those mentioned instrumentals, is devoted to a pair of covers, and while I can give or take the abusive version of the Misfits' "Devil's Whorehouse", which has been ramped up in intensity, the rendition of Celtic Frost's "Morbid Tales" is a real treat, supplanting some of the more leaden groove dimensions of the original with pure black/death metal bursts that make the breakdown just as sick as ever, and the echoed vocals and edge-of-perception organ ambiance do a lot to help transform this into something which feels more in line with the Putrified originals. Not to put down their own tunes earlier on the recording, but this was actually my favorite part of the recording. That said, while this collection of tracks overall didn't completely sate me, I definitely did enjoy the style and the production they used here, so when time comes for a full-length I'm likely to check it out and hope that it persists with this sort of blasphemous, energetic, but cavernous atmosphere.

Verdict: Indifference [6.75/10]

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Master of Cruelty - Archaic Visions of the Underworld (2016)

If any continent could be said to be the 'hotbed' for blackened thrash and death metal, South America would certainly be at the top of the qualifiers; not because I count many such acts from the area to be positively top flight, but because they have such a long and storied history with this mishmash of genres dating back to bands like Sarcofago or the earlier Sepultura recordings. It's a chain that has never really been broken, with all manner of filth-mongering over the 90s and beyond, and today there is arguably the greatest level of saturation for this hybridization we have ever seen, bands almost locked in competition for who can provide the most excessive and dirty DNA-tampering of both their local forebears and the 'first wave' champions from Europe like Venom, Bathory, Sodom, Kreator, Hellhammer, Destruction and Mayhem; liberal doses of Slayer perfunctory.

Master of Cruelty is a fairly well comported virus among this outbreak, because it could be heavily characterized more for its songwriting than extremity, and that's precisely the reason I enjoy this sophomore album. Don't get me wrong, they do 'ugly' very well, both in the layer of grime caked onto the rhythm guitars and the truly abominable growls and rasps being by A.G.V. which are soaked in just the right amount of effects to create an otherworldly, hellish presence that contrasts well with the more straightforward tone of the riffing. In terms of structure, they pen hideous lo-fi death metal rhythms which are then interspersed with thrashing breaks and even a few slower, morbid doom chord progressions. The thrash parts in particular remind you of the seedy and disgusting underbelly of wicked Satanic thrash of the 80s, especially the South American style, but then you've got those evil tremolo picked components and some dissonant, brighter black metal chords as a relish. Drums are raw, bass is pumped loud enough that it matters much more than comparable bands where it gets lost beyond its distortion.

Where it all works best, as in "The Execution", you're getting this devilish and delicious mesh of early Floridian death, South American/Teutonic thrash and proto-black/war metal which is both frenzied and chilling, and they pace it all out over an estimable array of tempo shifts that prevent any sort of repetitious boredom from setting in. There's a cool, haunting intro with clean guitars and creepy chants, and beyond that the riffs are distributed pretty evenly between the different sub-genres which have inspired them. At times the transitions can be fairly clashing and sloppy, but at others that does actually work in the band's favor. I'm not going to promise that many of the riff patterns are themselves memorable, but when plugged into the primacy of the whole they work well enough that you feel like you've just uncovered some gem in a dingy basement record store back in like 1993, oblique and vicious and forever, ever underground.

Verdict: Win [7.75/10]

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Sodom - Decision Day (2016)

Every year, it seems like some old band I've been listening to for decades gets a chance to shine again, and a case could really be made in 2016 that it was Sodom's turn at bat. I can't act like I'm too surprised, since I'd already been teased a few of these tracks for some time now, but this must easily be my favorite of their albums since 1990. That's not to say I've despised all their intervening material; records like Tapping the Vein, Code Red and the 2006 self-titled effort all have their share of moments. But the last couple studio full-lengths leading up to this one, while polished and well rounded, were both a little underwhelming on impact. Decision Day strives for a similar appeal, in which the band draws upon various epochs of their career to blend together a mighty thrashing epic, but it does so through a nastier discourse that at many points feels genuinely fiery and malicious, not to mention memorable and destructive.

Nothing new, just really well-done Sodom. Having already extolled the virtues of the tunes "Sacred Warpath" and "In Retribution" from reviews of their respective EPs, I'm satisfied that all the other material here feels flush and fluid with them. Decision Day inhabits a realm of variation that doesn't neglect the black, raspy vocals of Angelripper's youth, the heavily structured thrashing rhythms of their classics Agent Orange and Persecution Mania, or even the more arguably accessible and/or melodic anthems they've been churning forth on 21st century recordings. No idea is really off the table if it plugs into a track, so the bombastic, roiling rhythm guitars of "Rolling Thunder" can be measured against the acoustics and Tom's whispers, or the lethal speed which is fundamental to so much of the material here can be laced with slightly more tech/thrash riffs or mid-paced neck breakers while spurious leads spit out across the vitriol of a "Caligula". That same track shows the band's willingness to impose manly backing chants to contrast with Tom's acidic inflection, and they also use a lot of morose sounding moody note progressions that aren't unlike their German kin in Kreator.

The drums and bass on this thing thunder all the way, the former given one of the fattest and most distorted powerhouse tones in all their discography, yet it's extremely well balanced against the far more elaborate and intricate guitar patterns. The latter is almost overbearing at points, but will give Sodom the satisfying extremity that can not only flex off against other thrash pundits of today but also the harder hitting genres which were partly birthed from their very own sound. The album also runs pretty deep. It occasionally suffers from some predictable riffing patterns, but then will almost always come back at you with something catchier that you don't expect, and the excitement doesn't really let up, with scorchers like "Vaginal Born Evil" and "Blood Lions" keeping your attention well in check. It might not achieve the perfection of The Antichrist in terms of how every song just sticks with you, but the chops here are substantial, each track pretty much packed. Vicious, predatory and cautionary lyrics top it all off, and it's really one of the best records released by a veteran metal act this year and regenerates a little of the faith and excitement that has so long languished between me and this once and again mighty band. Better than the last records from their 'Big Four of Teutonic Thrash' neighbors, and overall a lot of punishing fun without lacking in musicality.

Verdict: Win [8.5/10] (I earned the seed of retaliation)

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Gravebreaker - Sacrifice (2016)

Nobody's going to accuse any of these retro 80s heavy metal acts of originality, but in all fairness it's not like that's a virtue for most of the more 'modern' strains of the genre either. We listen to a lot of these bands to hear how they've spliced the DNA of precursors into a mildly distinguishable format, and after a time writing and putting the material to disc, a sense of self-identity tends to emerge which is the classic coming of age tale. That Sweden's Gravebreaker have instantly, upon their debut album, managed to capture both my imagination and nostalgia, through a very strict adherence to early metal aesthetics in both composition and production, speaks well of where they're at and where they're going, even if it's become even more commonplace to experience throwback sounds like this.

One of the obvious comparisons is going to be made to Running Wild, specifically the gravelly and grating mid-range vocal of Nightmare, who sounds a lot like Rolf Kasparek in his earlier years, albeit a bit more nasally. Some of the riffing also summons up Gates to Purgatory or Branded and Exiled, that simple, fuzzy bite to the rhythm guitar which instantly gives Sacrifice a dated appeal, especially in stuff like the title track. But in terms of how the riffs are actually structured, I heard a lot of other paeans to classic obscure German and Swedish heavy and speed metal circa Stormwitch, Warrant, Samain, Proud, and Heavy Load, not to mention a few threads of USPM like the early Omen material, not to mention the more prominent influence of bands like Judas Priest and Saxon in the chord array. Leads are efficiently constructed but don't take too much of the attention away from the meat of the songs, and the bass here has a slightly more throbbing and active role than a lot of alike bands who simply bob along the root notes and never stick their neck out for fear of getting them cut.

What's more, Gravebreaker make an excellent use of synthesizers throughout the album to give it a hazy, late night horror mystique that really rounded out the workmanlike riffs and attitude. Whether it's the creepy closure of "Sacrifice" itself, with a melody that plays alongside the mute picking of the rhythm guitar not unlike something you'd have heard on King Diamond's Fatal Portrait, or the moody keys that inaugurate "At the Gates of Hell" as if it were some spiritual successor to Ozzy's legendary "Mr. Crowley", their implementation is pretty much perfectly fit to offer some contrast and atmosphere to the raw delivery of the metal itself, as are the minimal samples used like the subtle sirens in "Violent City", or the great dialogue from the 1981 martial arts cheese-fest Kill and Kill Again which is used to christen the song of the same name. Add to this a popping drum mix and you've got an excellent vehicle for the nostalgia I always experience for a lot of records of my youth, but the Swedes don't rely solely on that factor, because they're actually writing tunes that are catchy and fun regardless of the decade in which you're exposed to them...

Assuming, of course, that you like the filthy underground underbelly of the genre, a blend of the rugged and anthemic, and the dingy evil cover photography which seems to imply some satanic ritual is used for nuclear purposes. Sacrifice hits a sweet spot between Gates of Purgatory, Executioner's Song, Fatal Portrait, and other records of that '84-86 era, cult film worship, leather and spikes and all things that weren't nice. In a year paving memory lane with the likes of excellent output from Spell, Cauldron, Eternal Champion, Angel Sword and Lethal Steel, this is well worth chasing down.

Verdict: Win [8.75/10]