Every year there are lists. There are best-ofs coming out the internet’s arse.
People you’ve never heard of give their solemn top 20s on twitter, magazines fight to get theirs out first as early as November.
So of course we’re on the bandwagon too. How could we not?
But rather than just write some listy old bunkum, I thought four MI writers could put their collective three brain cells together to come up with something different, and hopefully a but more meaningful.
I asked them to think of some people they figured who’d made a tiny bit of a difference in metal this year. It didn’t need to be coming up with a new genre or anything. Just a few people who’d made a small mark.
One individual even came up twice from two people totally unconnected.
So as you recline in obesity after your Christmas dinner, put your feet up and raise a sherry to these daring individuals. We reckon they’ve done something tiny, something of note that’s just made metal a degree or two more interesting during 2016. Hail!
By Lorcan Archer
I was lucky enough to catch Moon Tooth play a hole-in-the-wall bar in Montreal back in June. The band, driving themselves on a shoestring tour of the eastern United States, had made a small diversion to Canada.
Witnessing John Carbone and his fellow New Yorkers pull off guitar solos on tables and blast the 30 odd attendees really topped off my addiction to their debut, ‘Chromaparagon’
Where to start with this release – it’s nothing but infectious in its freshness, enthusiasm, and creative energy.
Bearing a passing resemblance to Mike Patton and even Goatsnake’s John Stahl; John Carbone’s character and soul in singing is the cherry on top that sets ‘Chromaparagon’ apart. Combined with the hyperactive riffing and blasting of his fellow band members, his steam-of-consciousness style of completely unbridled singing is part of what made this such a little firecracker of an album.
It’s one that I just couldn’t get off my headphones for most of the year, sound tracking everything from March snow to August heat. Carbone’s touches and abstract references perfectly verbalises the hyperactivity that this excellent little album is fueled by. Moon Tooth ever break through to wider recognition anyone’s guess, but the sheer giddy joy they dish out on this little jewel of a record is beyond doubt.
Last I’d heard of US songstress Julie Christmas was Made Out of Babies’s interesting swansong ‘The Ruiner’. She’s since given us a well-regarded solo album back in 2010, but this out-of-the-blue collaboration with Sweden’s Cult of Luna has really announced her return to the studio and stage.
Part of what makes ‘Mariner’ so good is how it represents a long-awaited final piece of the puzzle for Cult of Luna. The group have always had great power and heaviness, as well as artistic poise and buckets of atmosphere.
What they’ve lacked across the roar of their many albums is a real human touch. Christmas’s reflective performance on this echoes other instances where gifted singers (Jarboe, Jesse Sykes) have pushed sludge bands (Neurosis, Boris) to wonderful new heights.
‘Mariner’ isn’t afraid to aim high. The twisted, anxious monologue of ‘Chevron’ sits impressively alongside the roaring clarion call of ‘The Wreck of SS Needle’; an absolute monster of a song. Christmas herself described the process of crafting the album as ‘freeing’, and it certainly sounds like the band playing around her were lifted to new creative heights.
At times on ‘Mariner’, the good ship Luna ventures into waters that are stunningly powerful, and arguably the best thing they’ve ever produced. Should Christmas’s contributions to the world of heavy music end up staying intermittent, with a bit of luck they’ll stay as striking as this.
2016 saw North America continue to produce plenty of sterling death metal, as various local scenes across the continent slaver forth quality album after album.
Seeing Colorado’s Blood Incantation utterly annihilate a small bar in September really rammed home the fact that there are bands active at the moment in that scene that are just as creative as the greats have ever been.
Paul Riedl’s contribution as Blood Incantation frontman is, like Evil Chuck himself, both unassuming and projecting of total power. The depths that the band plunge to on debut ‘Starspawn’ are truly decrepit, as the band’s massively hefty metal summons up all the unfathomable horror of abandoned moons and the virulent secrets of life on earth.
Seeing the group rip through material from this record really was a huge treat, with Riedl’s matter-of-fact pointing to to the origins of everyone in the room from a single, disgusting panspermian meteor strike on Earth long ago. Call it an odd fixation for a Death Metal band, but such cosmic violence has obviously inspired them.
The music on this debut full-length is muscular and wonderfully varied, touching on straight-up death metal assault, doomed-out funeral doom, and Gorguts-esque variations and flourishes. Like some sort of viral strain, it pulses and shifts – with Riedl’s huge roar filling everything out. Seeing the band perform live, it felt like tapping into Morbid Angel circa ‘Gateways…’, with track after track of killer metal being backed up by an insanely hard hitting drummer.
Blood Incantation are less of something new, and more of a crossover strain of all the best kinds of Death Metal. It’s a merciless attack, and Riedl’s focus and performance speaks powerfully through it.
By Jamie Grimes
There’s some excellent guitarists in nowadays death metal undeniably, but the truth is many stay firmly within the realm of the Slayer/Bolt Thrower tremolo strangling when it comes to solo time. It feels like forever since the Death Metal underground has really thrown up a new guitar hero, perhaps since the days of Bill Steer or James Murphy, the kind of guitarist that you yourself aspired to play like.
Say hello then to Phillipe “Pat” Tougas, the Canadian six stringer master who has made the death metal guitar solo a thing of beauty again. Mainly known for as guitarist and vocalist for Chthe’ilist, that band’s debut album this year “Le Dernier Crespuscule” was one of the finest genre offerings not only of this year but of the decade so far for many reasons.
But the icing on the kick throughout was his melodic, soulful and yet still technically flawless solo playing. As if that wasn’t enough of a showcase for his talents, his contributions to Zealotry’s counterpoint driven “The Last Witness” a few months later were spectacular.
That’s before we even get into the current work of yet another project of his, First Fragment. I’m not one for shredders, but the guy is simply one of the best guitarists I’ve come across in recent years and his work this year has been jawdropping.
Dublin based drummer Karl Leavey has had an extremely busy year this year, but has pushed his limits further than imagined to rise to the challenge by inhabiting the drum stool for no less than 3 of Irish metal’s most feral acts.
Firstly Coscradh’s debut demo earlier this year was a formidable occult rumble kept tightly in line by his pace-setting battery; secondly he took on the unenviable task of officially replacing Johnny King in Abaddon Incarnate this year, and did so with a gusto and enthusiasm, fitting like a glove in the process; and finally let’s not forget his spell for part of the year behind the kit for the almighty Unyielding Love.
It was actually watching him play with both UY and Coscradh back to back during this year’s Dark Arts festival in Galway that it hit me that Leavey’s stamina behind the kit really is something else, given the physical demands involved in both the sets, and just how underappreciated he is locally.
And bear in mind on top of all this the guy still somehow finds a way to anchor angular synth-punk chaos as a live member of Dublin band Cyborg and Droid. For your work ethic, constant striving to improve your playing, and sheer dedication to the science of the blast and the double kick attack, Mr Leavey, we salute you.
Jay Gambit, aka Crowhurst
Crowhurst is effectively the stage name of an American fella called Jay Gambit. Essentially a serial collaborator, musical director, composer and noisemaker all rolled into one, Gambit has an intimidatingly large discography which hit a serious peak this year in the recently released “II”, the middle of a trilogy of albums which take his usual harsh electronic experiments and use them as a stepping stone from which he and his collaborators (on this record it was members of Caina and Aevangelist) create one of the bleakest record of the year.
A vision without boundaries, Crowhurst’s more “band” based recordings such as this flirt with elements of industrial, noise rock, drone and even black/death metal but do so in a way that avoids strict categorisation as any of them. Jay Gambit is simply uninterested in boundaries, and is pursuing his own vision in whatever format it takes within the confines of underground music.
There were a few other ambient/noise releases under the Crowhurst name else, each very much with an identity of their own rather than being a load of slapped together shite. Gambit has been at this a long time but it only really feels like he’s truly come into his own this year as the Crowhurst entity morphs and becomes more consistent, yet continues to surprise. Who knows where he’ll take us in 2017.
By Jonathan Keane
Julie Christmas – Again
Cult of Luna have had a good thing going for a while but the Swedish band’s collaboration with Julie Christmas this year on ‘Mariner’ added a new dynamic to the band.
Christmas is no stranger to collaboration, having worked with members of Red Sparowes, The Dillinger Escape Plan, and Isis on various bands and projects over the years. On ‘Mariner’ she added a new eerie and hazy layer to Cult of Luna’s usually hefty presence.
At the same time, she could deliver a searing vocal performance like on the stunning song ‘The Wreck of SS Needle’. Cult of Luna has certainly never been broken and doesn’t need fixing but future work with Julie Christmas would receive little or no complaints.
With the direction that 40 Watt Sun have taken on their new record ‘Wider Than The Sky’, you’d think that Pat Walker is making a concerted effort to leave the spectre of Warning firmly in the rear view. You’d be wrong of course as Warning are getting back together next year. But it’s not an unreasonable thought.
‘Wider than the Sky’ saw the band shed the distortion that ruled over ‘The Inside Room’ and has taken on more of a flavour akin to Red House Painters and Codeine. The one constant though? Walker’s vocals. They define the band. No one comes to displaying that kind of distinctive raw emotion through their voice.
Jamie Saint Merat
Choosing Jamie Saint kind of seems unfair. Ulcerate, as a three-piece, are a sound to behold. Michael Hoggard’s piercing cacophonous riffs and Paul Kelland’s cavernous howls from the depths all play an important part in Ulcerate’s devastating and compelling death metal.
But Saint Merat’s drumming may very well be Ulcerate’s ultimate cog that pushes them from being a very good band to a great band. The end result of all these ingredients has been series of stellar death metal records over the years but 2016’s ‘Shrines of Paralysis’ can lay claim to a spot near the very top.
By Earl Grey
Back in August, I was raving about Dan Swanö’s latest meisterwerk: his new Witherscape album. It was a treat for the ears, and to be honest, for the heart as well.
The fact that Dan has steadfastly refused to bow to trends and sounds that, with his musical brain and ear could have made him thousands by now, and instead crafted an intensely brilliant piece of underground metal that sounds straight out of 1996 is to be lauded.
Dont forget, this was the guy that was the real power behind the best old Opeth and Katatonia albums, not to mention Edge Of Sanity. A producer extraordinaire but also a top notch musician who will, I guess, never really be widely known outside cult appreciation, his efforts deserve huge congratulation at the end of this year. What an album; what an ear; what a guy.
One of rock’s true journeymen, Ricky Warwick surprised us this year with a rip-rollicking, hard rockin’ album which was basically a collection of odes to yesteryear – primarily the 50s and 60s – or what one more likely suspects was the music his folks liked growing up in Norn Iron.
You wouldn’t think songs about Patsy Cline and all that would be Metalireland fayre. And right enough, all this could sound a bit of an awful throwback. But there was a ton of Wildhearts, Almighty and Johnny Cash in it, and enough autheticty to really see it through.
I suspect because of its rather thrown together cover art and pretty low profile (compared to the Blacks Star Riders day job) this one might have escaped a lot of people. But make the effort – take the chance. If its rockabilly stylings seem a bit off, do try to get past it – because it’s a powerful and honest album of a guy just talking about where he comes from through the language of music past.
Even before the news last week that the Team Rock stable of magazines – including Metal Hammer – had folded, there could be few unaware of how ball-breakingly difficult it is to run, produce and sustain a printed magazine about metal – or basically anything other than cunts from TV who only have first names.
In this day and age it would take almost insane levels of perseverence and willpower to make a fist of it. Louise of course has made more than that. She’s made an Iron Fist of it, and in the process crafted a publication that’s cherished for its dedication to metal and hard rock that cocks a snook at ephemeral trends and revels instead in the simple facts of life – guitar, bass, drums, vocal and attitude.
Let no-one underestimate how difficult this is. Delays in production have held up Iron Fist a bit this year, but its fans know that its worth the wait. Because, as is now all too evident, its the last of a dying breed. Maybe Metal Hammer’s woe has taught us now to value printed mags a bit more while we still have them: and so lets hope we can get behind She and support Iron Fist a bit more in 2017.
Oh and finally… James Hetfield
Yes. Here’s why.
Like all of you, I spun the new Metallica a ton over recent months, trying to figure out the best box to put it in – where it fit – and whether it was great or terrible.
Twenty times or more I’ve sat and begun a review before binning it because it’s so very hard to put it all in its proper place, or to step back far enough to consider it either on its own merits (which would be wrong) or in its place in history (which perhaps might also be wrong).
The bottom line is that it isnt bad – it even errs toward good, all things considered. One thing about it though was notable: it was very much James Hetfield’s album; his was the effort that was clearest in dragging them out of complete ignominy and back into a respectable musical place.
Lars was Lars, there with those off beats and his big crayon drumsticks. Rob did his bit, and who would bregrudge his gig. Kirk, for whatever reasons none of us really know, was missing in action.
James however was right out there at the front of it, singing like he hadn’t done in decades. Gone were the Ayyyys and woooooaaahs on the end of vowels. In place was the gnash and even some of the consiered lyricism of old; right at the start you could hear how into it he was singing we’re so fucked with so slight a delay as to suggest he was even angry about the inescapable fact.
Anyway, there’s a few times on ‘Hard Wired’ where you just gotta hand it to him. And chief among those is his real standout moment – the undoubtedly brilliant ‘Spit Out The Bone’.
I’ll never really understand why he didn’t just set Metallica to the side, even for a while, to pursue some great steel string stuff – the kind you suspect he could really, really deliver. If it results in a pent up head of steam like ‘Spit Out The Bone’ though, perhaps it’s all been worth it.
So, here’s to one of metal’s only real worldwide icons this 2016 – for pulling no small rabbit out of the hat, even if the rest of his band couldn’t quite do the same. You may or may not like ‘Hard Wired’ – and for my own part I’ve turned it off now – but still, you just have to recognise that he’s really, really put the effort in for it.
So James: we salute you this 2016. Now retire Metallica with your head high, for fuck sake.
– Lorcan Archer, Jamie Grimes, Jonathan Keane & Earl Grey ::: 26/12/16