10. Nattesferd – Kvelertak
As a band that has made waves both inside and outside their native Norway, Kvelertak have got their shit sorted. Usually, I’d likely have first heard about such bands in pretentious music blogs, but is it even more pretentious to feel proud having learnt about them from a bona fide Norwegian? Probably, but takk så mye Ingvild. If you are unfamiliar, they are the pioneers of a niche known as ‘black-and-roll’, a somehow streamlined fusion of 1970s anthemic prog-rock, hardcore and black metal (I’m really not a fan usually, but it is a Scandinavian staple so…). Nattesferd brings all of the elements Kvelertak fans know and love into a body-bopping bundle of fun. Yes, fun. This album is just an unbridled, rollicking good time from front to back. You may find yourself air guitaring your way through riff-centric bangers such as 1985 or Nattesferd, punching a bus seat in front of you to the rambunctious Bronsegud, or applying your corpse paint to heavier-than-expected opener Dendrofil for Yggdrasil. A questionable name to that one, but appeals to all Old Norse nerds out there (that’s me, if you’re asking), as does the album artwork. Much Tolkien. Catering for all tastes in rock, it’s an accessibly consistent record, with some low-key production, differing from the sound of the past two Kurt Ballou-handled LPs, but genuinely works a treat. Of course, unless you’re Norwegian, Erlend Hjelvik’s hell-bent vocals make absolutely no sense, yet never fail to bring some welcome carnage to proceedings. No bloody clue what he’s on about. Who cares? A-ha, Ylvis and Darkthrone may be Norwegian’s finest musical exports to some but…
9. Transit Blues – The Devil Wears Prada
From time to time, I listen back to TDWP’s Plagues and/or With Roots Above and Branches Below, realising just how much of a behemoth the band was in metalcore, and why I was such a sucker for the late-noughties scene. In 2007 and 2009 respectively, those albums managed to hone the sounds of those years succinctly and brilliantly: crushing breakdowns, over-production, the dichotomy of screamed and slightly-tweaked clean vocals. Those were the days. More still, the beautiful stupidity of track names such as Hey John, What’s Your Name Again? or I Hate Buffering never fail to bring such glorious nostalgia. Albeit the majority of Dead Throne was pretty gnarly, and the fact that the Zombie EP still remains my go-to 5-song collection (why oh why have they never returned to that crushing horror-movie soundscape?), since then TDWP seemed to weaken in my opinion, dropping off my metalcore radar completely. Yet despite losing core members Chris Rubey and Daniel Williams, now they have returned in 2016 with not only their most “mature” album (I know, please pardon the clichéd adjective), but also one of the most grown-up metalcore albums ever made. The electronics are subtle, the riffs slam, and the vocals are on point. I’ve always advocated Mike Hranica as the scene’s top scream vocalist, with the best range in the game since he was about 17 years old. His overlapped highs and lows were always deafening, but with his older age, his voice gives way to strained emotion, and some Being As An Ocean-esque spoken word which suits these slightly more refined gents to a tee. A confident novelist himself, Hranica uses Faulkner and Nabokov as literary influencers to craft each song as a vignette, focusing on the detachment that travel brings, as well as themes such as gun crime (Lock & Load). Whilst Worldwide focuses on the frivolity of life on the road, To The Key of Evergreen and Home for Grave, Pt. II are devastatingly melancholic, all backed by the cohesive band whose soaring tremolos give way to hard-hitting sludge with aplomb. It’s good to have them back at the forefront of metalcore, right where they belong.
8. Laugh Tracks – Knocked Loose
If the silly phrase “heavy as balls” means nothing to you, then it’s worth checking out the debut LP from nascent Oldham (Oldham County, Kentucky that is) outfit Knocked Loose. Indeed, it must go down as the debut record of the year, with every song being a microcosm of unrelenting aggression, pummelling riffs, half-time beatdowns and all round badassery. In essence, I can’t think of a song to sum up the feel of the nightmarish tumult that was 2016 better than Counting Worms, both lyrically and musically. You’ll hear what I mean. The “dog bark” is the new “blegh”. From seeing these nutters in a teeny tiny live venue too, it’s no surprise that such a track almost gave me a broken nose, and yes, I blame the song entirely, and I love it. Stripping heavy music back to its basics has given these hardcore get-up kids a sturdy foundation to build on, going from strength to strength just this year alone. Filthy bass riffs are the new black, so why does metallic music need intricacy? When these guys pull out riffs like the opener to Oblivions Peak, or every single one on No Thanks, it all makes perfect sense. Yep, Laugh Tracks is an absolute leveller. Get wrecked.
7. The Madness of Many – Animals As Leaders
It’s not often that you stumble across a group made up of some of the most talented musicians in the world, but Animals As Leaders (Tosin Abasi, Javier Reyes and Matt Garstka) make that discovery all the more sweet. Following on from 2014’s sensational The Joy of Motion, this latest offering is more of the same, but why change? Atmospheric, cherubic, haunting, dream-like, confusing, blissful, batshit: it’s all of these words. As godfathers of the djent movement, these heroes of modern metal really are astounding, somehow making slap-guitar sound good amongst acoustic finger picking and bombastically sporadic time signature changes. Has a song title ever been more apt at describing an instrumental than The Brain Dance? I think not. Tosin and Javier’s guitar playing manages to tune into just about every human emotion across these 10 entertaining cuts, fuelling the serotonin your brain needs to enjoy a little boogie of its own. And on top of that, I don’t think I can name a better drummer than Garstka; his precision playing never once feels over-the-top despite how damn complicated it must be to accompany the riffs, and I’ll be bobbing my head to those grooves in my old age. It really is flawless, and whilst not my favourite album of the year, it does win the award for creepiest album artwork, and boasts the greatest song name with Backpfeifengesicht, which roughly translates to ‘a face that deserves to be slapped’. The German language, and this band, is truly brilliant.
6. Gore – Deftones
This is the third time this year that I have written on Gore for The Panoptic. That fact says an awful lot in itself. Rather than going on yet another sycophantic love-fuelled open letter about Chino Moreno and co. as one of the greatest bands ever, with this latest album only serving to justify that claim, you can read my review of it here.
5. Mothership – Dance Gavin Dance
Also hailing from Sacramento, the undisputed kings of funk-filled post-hardcore Dance Gavin Dance put out their seventh album in 10 years, and it’s as consistent an offering as ever. With Tilian Pearson finally at full flight in the role of lead vocalist (three albums in a row with the same one? Unheard of!), his more confident, sensual serenades flourish amongst the nutty music provided by Will Swan and his cohort. There’s a bit of soul, a tonne of groove, a touch of grind, and a truckload of lyrical strangeness courtesy of Jon Mess, to suit all musical tastes and mental dispositions. Having been a long-time fan of this band, to see them still going and putting out their best record (in my opinion) since Downtown Battle Mountain II is a joy, and they’re definitely not letting up. Two years without a DGD record would likely be the apocalypse, although ironically, it would probably be a more sane world without their music. Like, what the hell is a “cocaine cringefest”? There’s always more questions than answers with this lot, but best to hold those back until you’ve enjoyed Mothership in all of its puzzling glory. After seeing them in person, I think I’d be a bit terrified in approaching them with a question actually. I’ll just dance to Flossie Dickey Bounce and forget I ever had any. Again, I rated the album quite highly earlier this year, and the review is right here.
4. Dissociation – The Dillinger Escape Plan
It is about that time in the article when the floodgates open. I’m referring to tears by the way, and that’s because this is when I have to formally bid farewell to one of my all-time favourite bands, The Dillinger Escape Plan. For around 20 years, Ben Weinman’s mathcore originators have produced the most innovative collection of songs album after album, totally redefining the ways that we should listen to music. Sure, they have the more pop-centric accessibility of Black Bubblegum or Unretrofied in their extensive back catalogue, and Greg Puciato’s angelic vocals, but at their heart, TDEP have also produced the most abrasive, chaotic, and cryptic music that the industry has to offer, with the destructive live act to match. Remember that time Greg took a dump on stage and wiped it on his face at Reading Festival? Gross, but a game changer. And now, 2016 screws us over once again with the news that they are disbanding and unlikely to reunite, making Dissociation their last gift to the world. And what a gift it is. Throughout its 50 minute runtime, you get confused and, well, confused again. Attacking a new Dillinger record is a like entering and emerging from a blackhole, particularly when it’s all over and you have absolutely no idea what you have put yourself through. Throwing up curveballs all over the place, it is likely their most eclectic and experimental album since Ire Works (which, being the album that introduced me to these guys, is still my favourite). Fugue showcases their Aphex Twin obsession, alongside the more chillaxed track Symptom of Terminal Illness, an unexpected calm amongst a tempest of absolute mindfuckery. Just when you think “well, they’ve calmed down now, I got this”, think again. Ben Weinman and Billy Rymer are two of the most clinical musicians on the planet, and whilst there is cacophony occurring all over the place, it is somehow never a mess. I could actually go on for days about how brilliant Dillinger are; some will understand, some won’t. When you get it, you get it. It’s no wonder the band has brought such a seemingly inaccessible genre to prominence, and stayed at the top of the game for so long. With the slow-paced, tear-jerking closer (the title track), Puciato almost foreshadows the band’s disbandment (“Couldn’t stay for you […] finding a way to die alone”), and whilst it is the most listenable of the tracks, Weinman still found a way of implementing some off-putting polyrhythmic drum sampling. Sublime. I can finally announce though that Room Full of Eyes is definitively my favourite Dillinger song of all time; it has it all, and Ben Weinman walked on my hand during their performance of it in KOKO. So long TDEP, the world of music will miss you.
3. All Our Gods Have Abandoned Us – Architects
Could Architects ever make as big an impression on me as when they did with Hollow Crown? I thought it highly unlikely, and then All Our Gods Have Abandoned Us happened. These songs, man. Every single heavy note of this album is furious, passionate and perfect. What puts this collection of songs even further above the rest of the pack is that it is Tom Searle’s last contribution to the Architects discography, having sadly passed away in August, and yet despite his terrible illness, it was Tom at the very peak of his song-writing. Songs such as Gone With The Wind and Momento Mori will forever resonate with fans of the band due to their lyrical content, with the former being Tom’s own account of his battle with cancer. Every aspect to AOGHAA is flawless: the high production value, the confluence of the instruments, each hard-hitting breakdown and Sam Carter’s vocals have never sounded better. When it is so obvious on an album that the group have put absolutely everything into it, it means a lot. The rest of the band have done extremely well to continue to bring their music to the masses in their last tours of 2016 in Tom’s memory. Let’s hope it’s not the last we see of the UK’s greatest band.
2. Low Teens – Every Time I Die
How on earth can you be a band for almost 20 years, somehow outdo yourself with each new record and continue to put on the best live shows in the world at the same time? Every Time I Die, everyone. Two years ago, From Parts Unknown was certainly my pick of 2014. They put pure carnage at the top of their to-do list on that album over and above their grimy-southern-rock-style helpings (listen to The Big Dirty), and with Low Teens, they’ve maintained the ante, and made the most consistent group of tunes at the eighth time of asking. No band manages to cram in as many riffs into a single song as these dudes, with Jordan Buckley and Andy Williams’ guitars bouncing off of each other at light-speed, bringing along Steve Micciche’s bass and Daniel Davison’s drums along for the hell-ride. As with El Dorado in 2014, ETID once again win my coveted riff of the year for that one in Just As Real But Not As Brightly Lit; they must sit in a room, noodle around and blow each other’s fucking brains out (yeah, that is a reference to The Great Secret) as soon as another meaty riff gets added to the cauldron. Put them all together, and you get Low Teens, minus the continually mind-blowing lyricism of English-grad-turned-teacher-turned- hardcore vocalist Keith Buckley. Whilst his past musings were tongue-in-cheek, heavy on sardonic humour and with sharp wordplay across the board, Low Teens still has a lot of that, but following an emergency birth of his daughter that was life-threatening for both his wife and child whilst away on tour, Buckley’s lyrics instead perfectly capture the anxieties of hearing such horrifying news. The opening track, Fear and Trembling is particularly striking: “When I robbed two early graves, I was sick with grief […] heaven’s been raided, creator, created”, or the Macbeth-inspired closer to Petal, wailed repeatedly for ultimate devastating effect: “Untimely ripped into this world / I was born again as a girl.” Absolutely phenomenal and powerful stuff. The album is riff heaven, luckily backed up by sensational vocals and production. I can’t believe that it’s ETID at their best, and maybe they’re still getting even better. Surely not… And being lucky enough to see their inimitably raucous live show twice this year? Maybe 2016 wasn’t so bad after all.
1. Rock The Fuck On Forever – Angel Du$t
Hardcore punk is fantastic. I love it. If you’re looking for quality punk music, the Baltimore/DC area has got you covered, with one of the liveliest music scenes in the world, pulsating through the whole of the US in tiny holes that are somehow venues, kids sharing the stage with the bands as if they were one. Now considered one of the pioneering bands in 21st century hardcore was Trapped Under Ice. Their drummer Brendan Yates now fronts Turnstile, with hardcore drummer-for-hire Daniel Fang (D-Fang) playing Yates’ old instrument (check out Turnstile by the way, they’re great). D-Fang also drums for Angel Du$t, fronted by Trapped Under Ice’s vocalist Justice Tripp, who stayed on vocal duty. With me? Good. It’s one big happy family in the hardcore community, and Angel Du$t have produced my most-played album of the year, even having only heard of them this summer. And why could it not have been sooner? Sprinkling traditional hardcore punk with some alternative rock, psychedelia and pop sensibilities has made Angel Du$t a whole new breed of musical brilliance, merging everything that is great about fast-paced aggression with catchy hooks and sing-alongs. Tripp’s vocals are almost unrecognisable from his TUI days, but his voice is versatile, poppy in places, and only slightly shouty for the album’s more punchy moments. Whilst the lyricism is fairly standard, it touches on recognisable territory: failed relationships, girls, sex, happy relationships, death, girls… and with the longest track on the 13-song effort being only 2 minutes 8 seconds, it’s an rip-roaring happy-go-lucky punk outing that barely lets up for a second. Front to back, I must have played this 20-minute album through at least 50 times, and I will never get bored of it. It’s quick, bold, catchy, bass-heavy, ferocious, sensational, shit-hot and just pure fun. They thrash out power chords like they’re nothin’, have some call-and-response vocals spattered about, and there’s a brass instrument in the last song that comes out of nowhere. The music is as raw and succinct as the album’s title. I’d say Angel Du$t have been my biggest musical surprise of 2016, but also the most worthwhile. I look forward to their future. Rock the Fuck On Forever.
Top 10 Songs 2016
1. Map Change – Every Time I Die
2. Gone With the Wind – Architects
3. Can’t Go Wrong – Wiley
4. Noise Above Our Heads – James Blake
5. Come Back For More – Turnstile
6. Pain – De La Soul (ft. Snoop Dogg)
7. Home Soon – Issues
8. Man – Skepta
9. Terrified – Dayshell
10. o r i g i n a l – Bad Rabbits
Images: Roadrunner Records; Rise Records; Pure Noise Records; Sumerian Records; Reprise Records; Party Smasher Inc.; Epitaph; Pop Wig Records