Welcome to the first of many year-end lists here at mikeladano.com! I’ve decided to call this series “2016 Can Suck Balls“. We will discuss the celebrity deaths that plagued this year on my own list, but first up to bat is the man the myth the legend — Dr. Dave Haslam. His heavier-than-fuck lists always generate a lot of interest, so Dave’s going first!
Please welcome Dr. Dave with his Top Albums list of 2016.
GETTING MORE TALE #537.1: 2016 Can Suck Balls
Year End Lists, Part 1 – Dr. Dave Haslam
Well, it was an…interesting…year. The deaths came fast and furious, and the tail end of the year for me went from the sublime (Cubs win!) to the ridiculous (Trump wins!).
It will be fun watching the dumpster fire that is the United States over the next year, and perhaps a few of these tunes will serve as a compelling soundtrack for that.
10. A 3-way tie between Opeth – Sorceress, Winterfylleth – The Dark Hereafter, and Nails – You Will Never Be One Of Us.
Why a three way tie? Because “Top Tens” are an arbitrary convention. I understand that we use the decimal system on this planet, but we’re talking music here, not distance, or measurement, or even the weight of your momma. Opeth was certainly phenomenal live, and there are parts of Sorceress (particularly the title track) that I love, but there is a lot of fluff on this album, a lot of acoustic bits that just didn’t grab me. If even 75% of it was of the calibre of the title track then it would easily be my #1 album. As it is, it merely shares a tie with Winterfylleth, who are awesome, but released an album that was pretty meagre compared to their recent efforts, and Nails, a band I probably wouldn’t even like that much except that the pure, unhinged fury of You Will Never Be One Of Us pretty much encapsulates my reaction to the election of Cheeto Mussolini by our terminally stunned neighbors to the south. Check out the title track (hmm, I see a theme here) if you want the most succinct example of unbridled aggression released this year.
9. Deathspell Omega – The Synarchy of Molten Bones
So Spellcheck flags “synarchy” as a spelling mistake, which casts a poor light on Spellcheck’s recognition of obscure political terms. And, now that I notice it, Spellcheck also considers “Spellcheck’s” (the possessive form of the noun Spellcheck) as a spelling error as well. What is my takeaway from this? That Spellcheck doesn’t like being talked about, or having particular qualities or characteristics ascribed to it. Well fuck you too, Spellcheck. I don’t even need you, so blow me.
Anywho, this is a half-hour long EP, and it sure isn’t Drought, an EP from 2012 which demonstrated new levels of variety and composition from these devout French Satanists. Instead, this returns to their classic sound: eerie, frenetic, bewildering, and very very fucking evil. There’s a reason why these guys don’t do gigs – it would probably be impossible to do this live. I can only chuckle at the thought that the U.S. Army uses Metallica or some other mainstream band to torture Muslim detainees when they could be using this instead. Then again, maybe that’s for the best. This music would likely have Navy SEALs shitting their undies.
Sample only if you’ve given up on sanity as a “life goal.”
8. Meshuggah – The Violent Sleep of Reason
Recorded together live in the studio, this album has a more organic sound than any of their more recent releases. If you know them, then you know what to expect. They are a consistent, well-oiled machine, and there are few surprises or major deviations here. The song that really hooked me is “MonstroCity” (cool title, bro), which has a lurching, idiot-man-child-on-meth kind of funk to it – my favorite tune on the album. This album almost didn’t make the list, as my ability to truly appreciate Meshuggah depends on my mood; however, since I have been in a “smash-shit-up” kind of mood lately, here it is.
7. Devin Townsend – Transcendence
This fucking guy. Devy likely won’t get his proper due until years from now, but now is the time to get on board, if you haven’t already. Is it my favorite release of his? No (I’m looking at you, Ocean Machine). But when you can be as heavy as Devy can, and be as melodically lush and compelling, then you are as far past the run of the mill as it gets. As Rush rides into the sunset (did I mention that 2016 was a very trying year?), Devin Townsend is the Canuck that will pick up that torch and run with it. Time to recognize this national treasure while he’s still alive. Give “Failure” a listen and disagree. I dare you.
6. Dunsmuir – Dunsmuir
My love for Neil Fallon (and Clutch) is hardly a secret. He is the hard-rock equivalent of Tom Waits, but that comparison fails once I realize that Fallon’s tales and subject matter are even more compelling to a freak like me than Waits’. The band behind him soars, snarls, and grooves in a way that sharts on much of what we consider “classic metal.” This is why Vinny Appice replaced Bill Ward in Black Sabbath, and why Tim Sult can access limitless possibilities at the blusier end of heavy guitar. “Crawling Chaos” should give you a good idea.
5. Alcest – Kodama
A fine return to form from the French pioneers of blackgaze (black metal + shoegaze). Unlike last album Shelter, this one has bite to it, adding much appreciated energy to their lushly melodic soundscapes. With clean vocals and blackish wails, blast beats and proggier grooves, Kodama is an almost perfect balance of their disparate influences. Yes, this requires patience, and it is designed to be atmospheric rather than fist-pumping. Go to bed, turn out the lights, spark one up, and listen to this at volume on good-quality headphones. Immerse yourself. “Oiseaux de Proie” should serve nicely as an introduction.
4. Gojira – Magma
A third French band on my list? Tabernac! This one’s a grower, not a shower. This is a pretty new band for me, and I’m sure getting on the Gojira train at Magma station is like not getting into Mastodon until Once More Round the Sun or The Hunter (“Dude, like, haven’t you heard their early stuff? It kicks this album’s ass, man!”). Yeah, fine, whatever. That doesn’t change the fact that this album has a certain something that I can’t quite put my finger on. While they might have kicked your ass in a more aggressive and complicated fashion a few years ago, they’ve allowed some restraint and melody into their sound, and it has paid off in a big way. “Stranded” is what sold it for me, starting with a Meshuggah-esque riff overtop a deep but spacious groove, which then morphs into a simple bridge riff that is as cool as it is accessible, until the three and a half minute mark, when the real earworm of the song kicks in. Composition might be a four-syllable word, but it’s certainly not a four-letter word. Sometimes simplicity really is the closest step towards genius.
3. Deftones – Gore
I’ll save my rant about how unfair it is to lump these guys into the nu-metal category alongside vastly inferior bands like Korn and Chimp Trisket for a later time. Suffice it to say that this album rewards multiple listens. The story is that guitarist Stephen Carpenter had thoughts about stepping away from the recording of Gore because of how atmospheric and subtle the ideas were compared to their earlier albums. And it’s good that he didn’t, because there is still plenty of succulent riffage here. Chino Moreno is still a very versatile vocalist, going from a whisper to a scream to a croon in no time, and the rhythm section is always tasty and totally underrated. “Pittura Infamante” is probably the best example of how this band has grown – although each of their last three or four albums are totally wicked. This song resembles Gojira’s “Stranded” in that it shows how deceptive simplicity can be the secret weapon that veteran bands use to economize their songs for maximum appeal while still maintaining their true identity. And watch out for one of the riffs of the year at about the 2:25 minute mark. Wow. Then again, listen to “Hearts/Wires” for a more relaxed version of this album. Or the first track. Oh fuck it. It’s all amazing.
2. If These Trees Could Talk – The Bones of a Dying World
I had no idea that these post-rock alchemists got signed by Metal Blade, and I knew nothing about this album’s existence until I randomly came across it at Encore Records, which is where I had to special order their two previous albums about a year ago. This is textbook post-rock, and if you are confused by that particular genre designation then listen to “The Giving Tree.” It’s less spacey and discordant than Mogwai, less stoner-rock than Pelican, and much more immediate than Godspeed! You Black Emperor. There are a lot of layers, textures, and dynamics to be explored with three (3) guitarists, and ITTCT indulge that potential without it all turning into a sprawling, unfocused mess. I get a Steve Rothery vibe from “The Giving Tree,” although it is quite a bit heavier than you would expect from the heart and soul of Marillion. I’m glad that music like this exists. Sometimes you just don’t need a vocalist to get to the real heart of the matter.
1. Abbath – Abbath
After an acrimonious split with his Immortal bandmates, Abbath made the best Immortal album since 2000’s stone-cold classic Sons of Northern Darkness (one of the best heavy metal albums of the past 30 years, by the way), albeit under his own moniker and with a different rhythm section. And that rhythm section kicks massive ass, driving the kind of militant and triumphant anthems that will inspire you to crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and hear the lamentations of the women on some frosty tundra where glaciers loom and wolves lie in waiting to feast upon the bodies of the vanquished. It doesn’t get more metal than this. Like Slayer, Abbath knows that downshifting to mid-tempo is where the truly heavy and epic begins, and “Winterbane” is a perfect example of this. Merry Christmas, motherfuckers.
Close but no cigar: Metallica – Hardwired…To Self-Destruct (good, but too much meh); Russian Circles (haven’t heard it enough); Khemmis (so close…); SubRosa – For This We Fought the Battle of Ages (not as good as More Constant Than The Gods); Inquisition – Bloodshed Across the Empyrean Alter beyond the Celestial Zenith (crazy title, great black metal album).
My main obsession in 2016 that does not involve a particular album released in 2016:
Live MGLA – I’ve spent most of my YouTube time in the past year listening to and watching this Polish black metal band slay audiences and perfect heavy metal with an aggressive yet understated style that simply beggars comparison. This is THE SHIT. The drummer is unbelievable, the riffs are unimpeachable, and the compositions are incredible if you consider that hypnotism is just as valuable as anything “showy” or “obvious.” This gets me hard more than anything else in the universe right now. No grandstanding, no histrionics, no drama, no “image,” no trying too hard. This is simply perfect heavy metal. For a short, two-song sampler, check out “Brutal Assault 21 – Mgla (live) 2016”. Or for a boringly- filmed but excellent-sounding full gig, check out “MGLA – Live at Dark Easter Metal Meeting 2016 – Full Show” on YouTube.