If you’ve opened an internet browser in the past two weeks, you’ve probably seen a list or two going around; some, interesting, like Robin’s fuck off epic, and some, well, I’m not one to name names (unless it’s Dahvie Vanity), aren’t as much so. It’s not that I have anything against Nails, Khemmis, and so on, but I think I speak for many when I say it’s non-earth shattering knowledge that they released albums in 2016 that people really liked. Perhaps there’s an obligation to acknowledge the given heavy weights, like the spirit of tradition that’s solidified the Grammys as an annual flare-up. But if that’s the case, then there should also be an obligation to acknowledge some of the lesser-celebrated niche markets, i.e. the depressive-atmospheric realm because lord knows if you make me listen to much else these days I grumble like an old fart. So, I’m sharing my 2016 favorites; gems that I unearthed from the great Cickhole so you don’t have to break out the jackhammer yourself.
Before you call me pretentious for my ongoing DSBM one-woman circle jerk, let it be known that my exception to this rule has been yet another Marilyn Manson bender. My poster of him is watching me from my living room wall as I type. I’m wearing my Portrait of an American Family tshirt. I have literally climbed into the asshole of his old YouTube interviews. One interesting fact that I learned last night that I feel compelled to share is that in the 90’s girls would mail him nudes via a goddamned fucking USPS mailbox because wat r MMS. I had actually joked about such a concept in my shock rock article back in Ye Olde Thote Thought days with zero clue that it was a horror founded in reality. So yes, I am but meager whiskey tango garbage. Now that we have rubbed the special ointment on that one, let’s get started.
Spectral Voice From Newborn Star – The Lost Sun (Russia)
Being the genius that I am, I fell in love with The Lost Sun while completely oblivious to the fact that the project’s mastermind is also that of Melankoli, whose album Wind (2012) was my go-to last fall. In many respects, TLS seems to be another pivotal chapter in the epic that’s Unknown/U.’s musical journey. The band’s inaugural full-length is as if the vision of Melankoli rose up from blistery forests and ventured into the depths of the stratosphere. Some tracks can be characterized by black metal-style tremolo-ing alongside delicate piano, while others break into full-on ambient interludes with slow but decisive drumming that would serve as the perfect soundtrack for getting lost in the constellations. Subtly pained vocals accent the instrumental depth instead of overpower it, but that’s not to say U’s vocal range is something to gloss over — clean melodies, low grows, and high wails can all be found in their appropriate places. Ultimately, Spectral from Newborn Star, while perhaps missing an article, provides a consistently fulfilling experience that I had hoped to get out of the astral-inspired metalcore of yesteryear that struggled to maintain an engaging story throughout the course of an entire album.
The Howling Mountains – Hermóðr (Sweden)
Okay, I’m going to do the thing you’re not supposed to do — describe a band/movie by comparing it to a classic band/movie. If you would like to learn more about why that’s an ineffective journalistic tactic, go read point one of Robin’s fuck off list or go watch Adum Plaze’s review of Frozen. However, I have a hope it might actually be useful in this context. Hermóðr reminds me of a reined in, accessible Caladan Brood. Don’t get me wrong, I love CB, but I realize the Leif Erikson Day erryday thing isn’t for everybody. The Howling Mountains has a touch of folk metal influences, but it is a well-proportioned spattering of cheese, if you will. So if you’ve let the D&D vibe deter you from exploring certain bands in the past, I wouldn’t let it in this case. Personally, it’s usually any kind of Guns N Roses feels that make me want to slither back into my Millennial cave, but I have to hand it to all-instrumentalist, Rafn (Deadlife, Gast, Mist). Anyone who can make me listen to harmonic guitar solos without voming deserves a package of Haribo Tangfastics. I hear plans for the future include–wait, hold the phone. Hermóðr has a music video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oLlps5a0QJc). I thought blackened bands that weren’t actively being poked and prodded by Nuclear Blast gave up on those a long time ago, but apparently I was wrong. It’s subtle, like if an album cover was a GIF, but it’s an experience I would like to explore with more atmospheric artists. Can you imagine if The Lost Sun released a single with moving illustrations of the atmosphere? I, for one, would most definitely nut.
Neurasthenia – Psychonaut 4 (Georgia)
Psychonaut 4, hailing from the beautiful former Soviet state, is a stand out within the suicidal community in many regards. Checking in with a six-member lineup, P4’s visual art is a far cry from generic kvlt wilderness scenes. Rather, you’ll find explicit, cartoon-like depictions vaguely reminiscent of none other than Marilyn Manson’s watercolors (I’m sorry, I’ll stop). These thematic differences can also be spotted both lyrically and within the band’s brand, with the “4” in their name referring to the number of plateaus when you robotrip. Having never indulged in the devil’s tussin, I was surprised to learn that it gets you way more kazoo than just your typical downer. Usually when I yearn to hear colors and see sounds my first stop isn’t Walgreen’s, but if nothing else, it’s a different approach than that of your average stonerlord band. I suppose the PCP waitlist is even longer than the bread lines over there, so hey, they’re working with what they got and I respect the hell out of that because that’s all you can do in life. In all seriousness, P4’s point of view ultimately gains its distinction from its rejection of given themes of hanging yourself from the forest branches or jumping off the most unforgiving mountain peak. Instead, they tell the story of the hard realities that come with sex drugs and rock & roll, but through depressive musical form. Neurasthenia demonstrates the remarkable amount of growth the band has undergone, even since the fairly recent Dipsomania (2015). The instrumentals have polished up their rock sound and the vocals, courtesy of your friend and mine, Mr. Graf von Baphomet, only continue to make strides.
Kingdoms Bathed in Golden Light – A Diadem of Dead Stars (Greece)
Contrary to its name, Diadem is far from an ode to what’s above. Rather, it is highlight of nature-based true as fuck DSBM, taking you through the humblingly unforgiving journey through the here and now. Kingdoms Bathed in Golden Light starts off plodding rhythmically like much of modern funeral doom, but is concurrently paired with more traditional black metal elements — a recipe for some delightful crunch. Spoken word also stands in contrast with distant wails that are woven into a bantering conversation. The first quarter wraps with a dire piano interlude that provides an audible cleansing to prepare the listener for full appreciation of the next, which starts out as a heavy call to war that transcends into a meditative acoustic session accented with the sounds of a night walk. While I was disappointed that Diadem seems to be the only project of The Pilgrim’s, I am excited to see what is instore for him in the future. Chances are, it’ll surely be something great since he seems to be backed by a small but devoted fanbase. Well, except for the kid in the comment section accusing the album of ripping off off Wolves in the Throne Room, but unfortunately there’s always one who wasn’t hugged enough as a child.
Disquiet – Unreqvited (Canada)
Unreqvited was a last minute but highly necessary addition, as it serves as living, breathing proof that atmospheric black is alive and well, and can even remain emotionally effective through clean production and other modern nuances. Frankly, this album can stand on its own without much detail, which is great because the only information I could find was that it was made by an East Asian ghost that flapped its wings over to the great white north, which my mind is slowly but surely accepting. But, I won’t leave you completely devoid of substance — Unreqvited is a true embodiment of its name as riffs slide briefly into the major, personifying a delicate hope that maybe the emotional energy you expel in bittersweet passion may one day be gifted back to you in tiddy, sparkling bow.
Tyhjyys – Kalmankantaja (Finland)
Last but certainly not least, there is Kalmankantaja, and my number one album of 2016, Tyhyys. In the opening sequence of cult favorite Tales from the Darkside, the narrator asserts that “man believes he lives on the sunlit world that he believes to be reality,” but is often blind to the truth that there is “an underworld, a world that is just as real, but not as brightly lit.” Tyhyys is a twisting staircase leading into the depths of this often overlooked subsect of humanity. With each riff, you are moved another step downwards, but you probably won’t even realize you’ve reached the bottom until fingers have been snapped and suddenly every light has been extinguished. But what happens when you reach the core? Well, that’s for me to known and you to find out. Fair warning: you will lose it in the last two minutes. It’s hard to believe that Tyhyys is only one of seven 2016 releases, with demo Kylmään Hylätyt having dropped most recently in December. In fact, Kalmankantaja has birthed a staggering 26 endeavors since its advent in 2011. It goes it show how much work can get done when a band spends most of its career working on solo terms, although all-instrumentalist Grim666 (Grimirg, Hautakammio, Lathspell) has recently welcomed vocalist Tyrant and various session artists. So, does that mean 2k17 holds the possibility for some North American dates? Hell, I don’t discount anything anymore.