Albums of the Year 2016 – Top5
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I think there is no need to lose any great words about how peculiar this year was.

Lemmy has been dead for more than a year now, many other musicians and numerous artists followed him. And all the shit in the world still hits the fan. To sum up, 2016 was a mass death. Civilians continued to be the victims of an incessant war, a series of terrorist attacks or a denial of aid. And the power over the world still rests on a gang of corrupting clowns who try to foment this global hatred even more with their dubious world outlook. So much for that.

Those who have not yet lost hope in humanity will at least be very pleased with the publications of the still living musicians. In contrast to 2015, which was a rather weak record-year in my personal opinion, the decision in 2016 was a whole lot more difficult which releases would make it into the top 5. But in the end we made it!

Luca and I have summarized our record favorites for you and really look forward to a dull and dizzying music year 2017!

Take it easy!

Ruth on behalf of

Luca’s Top 5

1. Oranssi Pazuzu – Värähtelijä

Oranssi Pazuzu - Värähtelijä - 2016The sound of the five Finns is described as Psychedelic Black Metal and to me the band is one of the few that successfully manage to bridge Stoner Rock and Extreme Metal. The last LP Valonielu was quite riff-driven and at times even catchy but 70-minute long Värähtelijä is more experimental again. Songs like Lahja come in rather unimposing while still achieving to create an exceptional atmosphere. To accomplish this effect the quintet uses repetetive, mesmerizing basslines, unusual yet sophisticated percussion (e.g. the use of bells, bongo drums …), hardly aggressive screeching vocals of Jun-His and spacy keyboard accents. Centerpiece of the record is the 18 minutes spanning Vasemman Kaden Hierarkia that fills the whole C-Side. It quickly begins with the hypnotizing main riff which leads to a first peak driven by alarmsignal-like keyboardscapes. What follows is a rather typical, dashing Black Metal part that passes into about five minutes of minimalistic synthesizer- and effecttinkering like one would expect it from a Noise band. The remaining minutes of the song are used to recur to the main-riff only that this time it begins slowed down and is dominated by the bass. While Jun-His finnish screaming gets more and more eclipsed by what sounds like some kind of sirens call out of the synthesizer, all the other instruments intensify until the spaced-out and frenzied climax is reached. The song ends with a sample of crackling fire as if all the recording devices have been set ablaze by the music. This is definitely one of the best songs of the year!

2. Tschaika 21/16 – Tante Crystal Auf Crack Am Reck

Tschaika 21/16 - Tante Crystal Auf Crack Am Reck - 2016Just before the end of 2016 Berlin Duo Tschaika released a concept album with a difference. To break it down: Tante Crystal Auf Crack Am Reck is about the pilgrimage to the Berlin Fernsehturm – and the vehicle of choice is the Ringbahn (circular railway). At the end of each song the two clows included an audio-snippet which they recorded en route (e.g. buying the tickets, stopping at a Dönershop and after all the pseudo-emotional moment when they first lay eyes on the Fernsehturm). I gotta repeat this: They both grew up in Berlin. Musically this album has plenty more to offer than some may expect now. It was completely recorded live and is mostly held instrumental. There are some subtle vocals and accentuated trumpet-parts here and there, but otherwise it’s just drums and guitar. Most of the time drummer Onkel avoids 4/4 beats and never seems to play any passages exactly like before – sometimes it’s an additional beat on the hi-hat, other times he includes a lively fill. In any case: Onkel makes sure that neither he himself nor the listener gets bored. Tim (of Rotor fame) plays his guitar through two amps and thus manages to simultaneously craft a guitar- and a bassline. As in Rotor many of these lines find their explosive finale in a destructive lo-fi riff that will leave everyone in the venue headbanging like lunatics when witnessed live. The only down-point on this release is the shorter vinyl version. The digital version departs at 52mins – too much for a single 12”. So sadly all the audio-snippets of the voyage to the Fernsehturm as well as one of the most interesting songs (“Zeh64”) couldn’t be pressed on the white vinyl.

3. Honky – Corduroy

Honky - Corduroy - 2016If the year would end in summer in our latitudes this album would’ve most likely ended up on #1 of this list. The Texans around J.D. Pinkus (who also played for the Butthole Surfers and Melvins) and Bobby Landgraf (Down) call their music „Championship Superboogie“ and it really is fitting. Their groovy southern-rock gets booties shaking for nearly two decades now. Corduroy is not only a hymn for everyone who favours cords over denim, but its also the perfect record for summer. Pinkus is in command of the overall sound through his unique and vibrant basslines, which keep it slap-happy even when Landgraf pulls one of the heavier riffs. The explosive guitar solos define the sound of Honky nearly as much as the bass does. Some songs (like the Pat Travers Cover Snortin‘ Whiskey (and Drinkin‘ Cocaine)) also stand out due to top notch drumming – the liner notes reveal that no other than Dale Crover is behind the skins for a few songs. Other tracks feature brass passages (Outta Season) or female soul backing vocals (Bad Stones). Corduroy isn’t the technically most complex album, yet it is never lacking dynamics or variety – it’s a guarantor for high spirits! And Honky is a band to be witnessed live!

4. Haken – Affinity

Haken - Affinity - 2016This album is everything but stoner-rock. Still it’s one of the absolute highlights of heavy-rock this year. Ever since releasing their last LP The Mountain in 2013 the London based quintet Haken is an institution of Prog Metal and after Affinity many critics hail them as vanguard of Neo Prog. There’s a rather harsh change of sound between the last two albums which polarizes most of the listeners. As the detailed artwork already suggests, the Brits have decided to release an 80’s record. The core of the sound is still very much inspired by Dream Theater – e.g. very clear and high vocals, which will put off many classic Stoner Rockers at the first few times of listening to Affinity. Also 4/4 bars are nearly nowhere to be found and the production is quite sterile but the record never lacks emotion. The first outstanding song is 1985 – an obvious homage to the 80’s. Until the first refrain the song is dominated by synthesizers but suddenly gets a quick metal-riff interlude. The 80’s vibe peaks in the sixth minute when a fanfaresolo on the keytar sets in, gets replaced by a massive guitarsolo and one last double bass supported chorus ends the song. The song Lapse features one of the best guitar solos of the year and leads over to the more riff-driven, 16-minutes opus The Architect which should be most interesting for fans of Tool. Apart from vocalist Ross Jennings the first few minutes are downright metal. Until they hit the ten minute mark they slow it down a bit while constantly changing tempo. Then it’s Metal again and this time supported by growls of Leprous’ singer Einar Solberg. It’s parts like this where the dominant 80’s vibe gives way to Extreme Metal – particularly because of the fast and fiddly solos.

5. King Crimson – Radical Action (To Unseat The Hold Of Monkey Mind)

King Crimson - Radical Action (To Unseat The Hold Of Monkey Mind) - 2016Another Prog record?! I know … But this 3CD Live-Boxset of british Prog-pioneers King Crimson will be a gem for all those who recently attended their European Tour. It features all of the carreerspanning 27 songs that were on the setlist and was played by the same musicians. There is no way to come closer to the live experience (especially because there is a Blu-Ray/ two DVDs included). Whoever is familiar with King Crimson knows that Robert Fripp is the only permanent member and the creative leader of the band. In the current Line-Up he is joined by long time collaborators Mel Collins (who plays countless brass instruments) and Tony Levin (bass). Jakko Jakszyk plays guitar alongside Fripp and handles the vocals. Furthermore with Gavin Harrison (Porcupine Tree), Pat Mastelotto and Bill Rieflin there are three definite experts playing drums … simultaneously! The new diverse line-up manages to reanimate the classics from the 60’s and 70’s in a good way. For example One More Red Night comes across less frenetic and is easier accessible than the original studio-version. The naturally crafted range- and stereo-effects of the three drummers who sit in the front of the stage can be witnessed best in The Talking Drum, Level Five or the complete percussion track Hell Hounds of Krim. Another standout is the Metal-drumsolo of Harrison during the center part of 21st Century Schizoid Man. With his crystal-clear voice Jakszyk manages to tenderly put his mark on further classics like Epitaph. All in all this release should please nearly every King Crimson fan – except complete purists maybe – because some songs are easier accessible than the original recordings, but through the drum-trio as well as the excellent flute- and saxophone-solos there always remains the spirit of sophisticated Prog Rock. For all of those, who saw King Crimson live last year this boxset will be the perfect way to restore the experience of the concert hall. And those who have missed them at least get a glimpse of how great this band is now.

Other highlights 2016

  • Mondo Drag – The Occultation Of Light
  • Whores – Gold
  • Causa Sui – Return To Sky
  • Young Hunter – Young Hunter
  • Blood Ceremony – Lord Of Misrule
  • Salems Pot – Pronounce This!
  • High Spirits – Motivator
  • Opeth – Sorceress
  • Anciients – Voice of the Void
  • Vanik – Vanik

Ruth’s Top 5

1. Mogwai – Atomic

Mogwai - Atomic - 2016In 2015 British director Mark Cousins set about documenting the invention and the usage of nuclear weapons by focusing on the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 under the title Atomic: Leaving in Dread and Promise. The musical background for his oppressive and visually strong work rests on Post Rock pioneers Mogwai, who were already able to capture Soundtrack experience for the TV show Les Revenants and the motion picture The Fountain. The Scottish quintet has always been a master for instrumental minimalism, progressive song structures and graceful songwriting. Also in Atomic these Mogwai-typical elements can be found, only electronic guitars and drifting basses were screwed down but analog synthesizers and organic instruments such as glockenspiel and piano play as a counterpart instead. As a result, one finds himself in a dystopian cosmos of strange and gloomy sound layers, blew up in unacceptable degrees of hardness by loops and e-drums and dismantled by gentle strings and piano parts. Songs like Little Boy and Fat Man (both codenames of the respective atomic bombs) as well as the goosebumping Bitterness Centrifuge particularly hold this eerie sound aesthetics and make Atomic the most exciting and thrilling sound experience of this year.

2. Russian Circles – Guidance

Russian Circles - Guidance - 2016Apposite to the global end-time mood, the sixth longplayer of Chicago based trio can be equally included in this year’s Post Metal anthology. After the rather bulky and submerged 2013 release Memorial and the general tendency to technical overrides, the anticipation of a new Russian Circles album was rather inhibited. Will the guys get bogged down in their own geniality sooner or later? To all our great joy Guidance is far from any nebulous tinkering. Soothing Asa preludes with filigree bass technique and tender guitar plucking before drum monster Dave Turncrantz reaches for the archaic opening drum beat, spitting out a hoop stamping and mad-drifting riffs spiked album. Guidance benefits from the technical advances of its creative musicians and the clean production of Converge-Guru Kurt Ballou, yet the record sounds more compressed and connected without any instrumental emphasis and exaggerated gimmickry. The three closing lights are particularly impressive – the dreamy, melodic Overboard, the groovy forward-bouncing / aggressive-banging Calla and the slow Lisboa – a trinity that often wept me into sleep late at night. Thanks to Guidance, Russian Circles remain the best band in their genre and continue to be my personal heroes.

3. Cough – Still They Pray

Cough - Still They Pray - 2016A crappy year is best concluded with life-negating cacophony. A doomsday-theme is already seen through our Top5, so we can also place the heavily undervalued Cough from Virginia within the Top3. How so? Because the ever-present Retro Blues shit and childish-naive hippie-boredom go on many people’s nerves so you rather prefer anti-aesthetics and unfettered reality to relieve your globally and personally shattered soul. However, Still They Pray captivates with Sludge Doom, the sound is sluggish and leaden like Sleep’s Dopesmoker, rutted by tormented vocals, complaining about disillusionment, subservience, obsession and concluded hopelessness. Despite all hardness, a groovy downforce and a fragile melody are found in the middle, which – thanks to the mixture of clean singing and wistful shrieks – does not show any weepiness. The symbiosis of troubled bass and heavy guitars in songs like fuzzy Masters of Torture, melancholic Let it Bleed and The Winding Hours conducted by a drunken organ pushes an elegiac mantra that might even drive some recipients into madness.

4. Mantar – Ode To The Flame

Mantar - Ode To The Flame - 2016In 2014 they’ve been THE discovery – and Death by Burning is still one of the most outstanding debut albums of recent years and still sounds so disgustingly diabolic even after repeated runs due to its scattered mixture of Sludge, Black and Crust still piercing marrow and bone. After touring ad nauseam, the two berserkers Hanno and Erinc continued their bloody path with Ode to the Flame.
Sodom and Gomorrah are still being spitted, blood and bile are being poisoned and Era Borealis is probably the most beautiful sing-along of this year. „Death über alles“ – the slogan of the desperate. The musical revelation of Mantar is like a bone job which is not only audible but also noticeable. Bass drum and bells are more accentuated, Hanno’s rupture-endangered vocal chords are even more stressed – hats off to such body mutilation for maximum musical achievements. The duo has just tied up where their debut has ended: cruel-guttural Death Sludge with heavy rhythms and dangerous groove whose sound landscape bites through all kinds of listening layers. Therefore the meandering of nasty Mantar algorithm has also continued in 2016.

5. Oranssi Pazuzu – Värähtelijä

Oranssi Pazuzu - Värähtelijä - 2016In only 10 years of band history five-man combo Oranssi Pazuzu unstoppably emerged from the Finnish tundra, now to toss four Space-Black Metal-choking albums into the tempting high pressure area. A couple of years ago, their morbid Horror Psychedelic has been intended only for a few ears but with the 2013 album Valonielu (the beast is actually tame) they were finally known to a larger audience. Compared to 2011 extreme-output Kosmonument, the unspeakable Värähtelijä is less caught up in Black Metal but the Psychedelic influences have been intensified. What a great shit! Värähtelijä is pure mindfuck, it’s for gimmick freaks as well as for lobotomized Stonerheads. The swinging progression of the gentle ascending, oriental Saturaatio along with its filigree guitars is a real pleasure, the bassline forms a pleasant constant, to which one can sit back relaxed despite shouting vocals. Muffled drumbeats, discreet synths and tempo changes combined with variant preaching/shouting singing of Jun-His roll out a huge sound carpet from the first to the last minute of the album. All these coherent styles are a feature of the innovative sound of the Finns who have not only created a threatening Space Rock album but also the most exciting work of their discography so far.

Other highlights 2016

  • Mos Generator – Abyssinia
  • Band Of Horses – Why Are You OK
  • Fatso Jetson – Idle Hands
  • Ahkmed – The Inland Sea
  • Alcest – Kodama
  • Suma – The Order Of Things
  • Phantom Winter – Sundown Pleasures