It’s no secret to people that know me that I love heavy metal, and 2016 was a momentous year for it. As much as I love death metal, black metal, thrash, and other sections of metal’s rich offerings, this list ended up being dominated by some of the best heavy metal by both quality and quantity that have came out in years. It really is incredible that an album like the new Eternal Champion that may have been my album of the year if it came out in 2014 or 2015 didn’t even make my top ten cross-genre cut this year. Exclusions were many and hard to make, and I’m glad for it- I’d much rather have a bunch of tough exclusions than a few easy inclusions. It’s also no secret that I’m terrible at describing music, despite writing for a music blog, so bear with me.
After an early death in the last half of 2016, Fetid Dead will be returning in 2017 in a smaller but more focused capacity. Reviews, roundups and mixtapes will be appearing at regular intervals concerning the underground and savage ends of metal and related sounds.
May all who are still around fester restlessly!
Album: The Cycle Never Ends
Label: Cruz del Sur Records
The Cycle Never Ends is Ravensire’s sophomore effort, and it comes after what I believe to a fairly strong debut. So, given that I feel they set the bar fairly high right out of the gates, this one had a lot to live up to. And initially, I thought that it fell flat. Nothing was overtly bad about it, but nothing was really drawing me in either. But there was something lurking under the surface that I couldn’t quite place my finger on, so I spun it again and a third time, still not quite finding much to latch onto.
Artist: Mare Cognitum
Album: Luminiferous Aether
Label: I, Voidhanger Records
Mare Cognitum is a band that has been around for a little bit and is fairly well known within the atmospheric black metal scene. It’s the creation of Jacob Buczarski from California, and he writes and records all the music himself. Now, one-man black metal bands are not new, and the frequency that Mare Cognitum releases music is not new either, but the quality of each release is something to behold. I don’t think Jacob has ever released a song that he isn’t completely satisfied lives up to his amazing standard. Luminiferous Aether is the band’s fourth album and continues this trend of extremely high quality music.
Artist: A Tortured Soul
Album: On This Evil Night
Label: Pure Steel Records
A Tortured Soul are a somewhat prolific heavy metal outfit from Milwaukee who just released their fourth album in just a little more than a decade. This particular release is noticeably heavier than their previous efforts, and is also quite a bit more long-winded. Whilst their previous albums were more of the standard length, this beast clocks in at over an hour with most of the songs breaking the six-minute mark. The album is just massive in every sense: its sound is thick from beginning to end, the downtuned guitars contrast with the high-pitched and haunting vocals, and it’s an epic thriller of horror and suspense, with all the dreamy interludes you would expect.
To answer your next question, yes, these guys probably listened to a lot of Mercyful Fate. I might even go so far as to say that it’s hard to spot very many other influences here, if any at all (though this album does interestingly remind me a lot of the Denner-Shermann release from earlier this year that featured Cage’s vocalist). Of course, if you ask me, sounding like Fate is a good thing since I am always on the lookout for more people who can make music like them. Besides the over-the-top vocal tribute to King Diamond, the guitars are dripping in Fate’s influence as well. As long as the rhythm guitarist is actually playing riffs, he is fantastic at channelling the fast-paced and aggressive style that Denner and Shermann perfected back in the golden era.
But unfortunately, there are huge spots where the riffs just seem to disappear completely, and it just leaves me shaking my head. And no, I’m not talking about those slow spots in all types of metal albums where the guitars play clean, the drums take a break, and the vocals soften. Those are fine if you ask me, and they are great for intros or fade-outs, or even as a way to build suspense for the next section. No, I’m not talking about anything like that; I’m talking about breakdowns. Lots of breakdowns. I’m not saying that breakdowns can’t be done tastefully, but the truth is that for the most part these completely interrupt the flow of some truly excellent compositions and kill the song’s momentum almost instantly.
What’s the most strange about them to me is how utterly unnecessary they are. The rhythm and lead guitarists are unbelievably talented and created. Some of the lead work on this album is the most creative stuff I’ve heard this year. And the riffs are equally compelling as well. Why spend all the effort on crafting some truly excellent music just to bury it under some goofy barrage of repeating palm-muted chugs? It doesn’t make any sense. And it’s even less understandable when you have a vocalist who has such an excellent range and ability placed alongside such silliness.
But this album does have its moments. “Dreams” and “Waiting for Death” are a couple of solid pieces where their musical potential really shines through, especially their creativity with constructing alluring melodies and harmonies that perfectly complement the atmosphere they were trying to create. There really is an awful lot to like here. But your mileage will vary depending on your ability to stomach the rest.
Check ’em out on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ATorturedSoul
© 2016, Dave Hodges
Author: T.K. White
Band: Marsh Dweller
Album: The Weight of Sunlight
Genre: Melodic/Atmospheric Black Metal
Label: Eihwaz Recordings
My introduction to the one-man band, Marsh Dweller, is rather peculiar; I was digging around on Metallum and stumbled across him and his sole demo, I found the guy on Facebook sent and asked him if he would know where to find a copy of the aptly titled “Demo” demo. He replied and said the demo was garbage and ended up sending me a copy of this album instead. Now, what I realized was that he sent me a copy of the album just days after it had been formally announced by Eihwaz Records and there were no track premiers, no album streams—nothing—yet I found myself in the peculiarly enjoyable situation of having a copy and for that I’d like to say thank you to John Owen Kerr. Continue reading
Artist: Сивый Яр (Sivyj Yar) & Hermóðr
Album: The Unmourned Past & A Place of Eternal Twilight
Genre: Atmospheric Black Metal