From my experience with putting these lists together, the five highest slots usually end up slowing the most variety. This year was certain proof as my absolute favorites of 2016 go all over the place between each other and within themselves. Just about any music fan should be able to get into the following efforts.
5) Oranssi Pazuzu: Varahtelija
-In a time when “avant-garde metal” seems to translate circus music with heavy guitars and lyrics about serial killers, it was nice of Finland’s Oranssi Pazuzu to show us what eclectic truly sounds like. A record of doomy black metal similar to Triptykon mixed with jazz, ambient, and world music may make for a difficult listen for some but its building atmosphere ensures plenty of successful integrations and an absence of boredom. At any rate, it’ll be a hearty listen for anyone else like me who was somewhat disappointed with the new Swans record…
4) Howling Giant: Black Hole Space Wizard, Part 1
-I came across Howling Giant when they released their debut EP last year and thought they were solid though maybe not quite there. I feel the need to apologize because they make some major progress on here. The songs are all great sludge prog in the vein of classic Mastodon but the last two songs are especially astounding; “Dirtmouth” offers a solid mix of punk and classic metal while “Clouds of Smoke” is one of the most epic tracks I’ve heard all year. It may be cheating to list an EP so high when there will likely be another part here soon, but you seriously need to check this out if you like a little more punk in your doom.
3) Dunbarrow: Dunbarrow
-For all the influence that early 70s protometal has had on nearly everything that came after it, modern recording techniques have made it impossible to honestly replicate that sound. Apparently Dunbarrow of Norway quite get the memo as their first full-length is a perfect emulation of bands like Pentagram and Blue Cheer. The production has that grainy rehearsal room feel, the songs have a similar looseness, and the vocals sound like Dickie Peterson with a Scandinavian accent. I may be one of the biggest haters of nostalgia culture out there but I have to give props when a band is really fucking good at what it does.
2) Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds: Skeleton Tree
-Plenty of artists have made albums chronicling their grief after the loss of a loved one, but I have never heard one as powerful as Skeleton Tree. It’s a more difficult listen compared to his other works, but it has more to do with how much it demands your attention than how dissonant the songs are. “Girl In Amber” and “I Need You” are among the most cathartic recordings I’ve ever listened to and it wouldn’t surprise me if a fair number of people added “Distant Sky” to their funeral playlists. It’s a painful journey but one that must be taken.
1) Khemmis: Hunted
-The best metal bands are always the ones that combine multiple subgenres with still abiding by their conventions. While Khemmis’s second album largely consists of thunderous battle doom, it is also full of classic metal guitar harmonies, confident clean vocals, sludge passages, and even influence from extreme metal in the form of harsher vocal interruptions and the occasional tremolo lead. It also helps that the songwriting is strong enough to keep everything cohesive. While it may not be everyone’s favorite album, it has enough variety and strength to make it onto just about anybody’s list.