Teeth of the Divine Staff Picks for 2016

Well, here we are at the start of a fresh new year. And while New Years is usually a time for bright-eyed, wishful optimism and wistful reminiscence, the global political and social climates have the world at unease. Yet despite a near blastbeat-pace of bummers and deaths, 2016 gave us another year of stellar extreme music.

Teethofthedivine soldiered on in 2016 as well, with some new faces on the team (though our distaste for digital promos hasn’t changed a bit). We also experienced a growth spurt on social media, so if you’re not following us yet, why the hell not? ‘Cause while other sites seem content to feed you with celebrity blogs, lists of ‘top 10 albums from 1993 which which had llamas on the cover’ or so-called humor pieces, TOTD just did what we do best: reviews, reviews, and reviews. One review every week day for the whole year. That’s 300+ reviews, folks.

We hope to add more interviews, features, and contests in 2017, and we do it all for you guys – our loyal readers, sharers, likers, and listeners. So keep on keeping it real in 2017, as it might be the last year the earth continues to spin. We’ll do our part to make sure metal stays as relevant in 2017 as it has been in the decades before.

So with much ado, here are the hand-picked releases that the TOTD staff enjoyed in 2016. Given the thousands of releases that assaulted our collective senses last year, hopefully we’ll introduce you to a few new favorites. And as always, stay tuned for our Fillings and Cavities feature, where we’ll shovel even more death, destruction, blackened weirdness, and melodic wonders into your willing ears.

by Staff

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We are truly spoiled for choice this year. There’s something for everyone – no two lists I’ve seen so far have called out the same albums. And once again, I had a hard time trying to order my selections while considering so many different styles and textures. I mean, how do you weigh the relative merits of cosmic technical death vs atmospheric black metal? Or retro/occult doom vs melodic death/doom? Or Ukrainian pagan black metal vs Tunisian power metal vs Finnish samurai metal?

Still, if there’s one thing these albums have in common besides their staggering stylistic diversity, it’s that they are all superbly written, exciting, entertaining, and creatively inspiring. Enjoy exploring – I know I’ll have plenty more to uncover after reading everyone else’s lists.

1. InsomniumWinter’s Gate (Century Media). Long, majestic tracks have always been the high point of any Insomnium release, but the band has truly reached a new peak with this single-song, 40-minute epic of melodic death/doom. It marshals all of their considerable strengths – rousing melodies, thundering gallops, growled and clean vocals, and gorgeous, graceful interludes – and the added space has allowed the band to stretch even further with post-rock atmosphere and grander crescendos.

Just when I thought Insomnium couldn’t get any better, they’ve stunned and surprised me with the most rewarding and exciting metal journey of the year.

2. MithrasOn Strange Loops (Galactic Records). It was worth waiting nine years for Mithras’ follow-up to Behind the Shadows Lie Madness. Apt title, too; each song evolves and fractures around alien loops of melody with churning tech-death chaos, and yet it all remains perfectly coherent and considered. There’s nothing else out there that sounds like this.

3. MoonsorrowJumalten Aika (Century Media). Black metal and Viking folk go together like sirens and Skellige, and no other band captured that magic as perfectly this year as these blood-spattered Finns. Their sound is as savage and cinematic as ever, but I don’t recall the songs ever flowing as smoothly as they do on this saga.

4. Omnium GatherumGrey Heavens (Century Media). Like their Finnish countrymates Insomnium, Omnium Gatherum has successfully wedded crushing melodic doom/death with sweet and soaring melodies. The addition of delicate synths on this one perfectly complements the yearning guitar leads, and the songwriting is more compelling as well. It’s their best yet, and one of the year’s most effortlessly entertaining listens.

5. OpethSorceress (Moderbolaget Records). Opeth got their groove back this year, with their heaviest and most colorful release in years. It’s still rooted in hazy, kooky 70s prog-rock, but finally lives up to the promise of their infamous shift away from progressive death. In other words, it once again sounds like an Opeth album through and through.

6. IhsahnArktis (Mnemosyne Productions). Ihsahn’s most creatively confident release yet, and my favorite since After. As with his last two avant-garde releases, there’s much here that’s surprising and eccentric, but it’s also more focused, balanced, and engaging. And the closing track is an absolute killer.

7. UadaDevoid of Light (Eisenwald Tonschmiede). These mysterious Portlanders pay devout homage to 90’s melodic black metal like Sacramentum and Dissection, as well as rawer influences like Taake and Darkthrone. It’s the most traditional-sounding release on my top 10, but sometimes purity is a good thing – especially when the experience is as well-crafted and concise as this.

8. Mare CognitumLuminiferous Aether (I, Voidhanger Records). Like its predecessor Phobos Monolith (my #1 pick for 2014), this album expands upon the infinite astral terror of In the Nightside Eclipse with graceful solos and melancholy ambient passages.

9. High Priest of SaturnSon of Earth and Sky (Svart Records). The retro/occult rock craze still finds new acolytes each year, but I’m always on the hunt for something new… errr, old. This year, my favorite find is this smoky, groovy Swedish doom release, with female siren-song vocals and droning space-lounge ambience. Kitschy, cool, and relaxing.

10. WhisperedMetsutan: Songs of the Void (Redhouse Finland Music Publishing). These maniacal Finnish samurai blend melodic death, power metal, and classical Japanese music – call them Children of Ronin. Metsutan is a hugely satisfying listen, with lush orchestration, katana-sharp melodies, and enough battle shouts to petrify any rival army.

And 11-25, in alphabetical order:

AdeCarthago Delenda Est (Xtreem Music). Roman military death metal, like Nile if you swap out the mummies and crocodiles for Centurions and war elephants.

AlcestKodama (Prophecy Productions). After a brief detour into straight-up shoegaze, Neige returns to the blackgaze genre he helped create, and the results are as gossamer-lovely and throat-shreddingly raw as ever.

AnciientsVoices of the Void (Season of Mist). Twisty, expansive blend of progressive metal, sludge, and stoner metal, like Mastodon or Baroness jamming with Opeth.

Black Hole GeneratorA Requiem for Terra (Ars Magna Recordings). Lurching, peculiar, and wholly entertaining black metal cabaret from members of Vulture Industries, Aeturnus, and Taake.

ColdWorldAutumn (Cold Dimensions). Another achingly beautiful atmospheric black metal/blackgaze release, and my go-to soundtrack while exploring barren alien worlds in No Man’s Sky.

Cult of Luna & Julie ChristmasMariner (C.O.L. Press). New vocalist Julie Christmas lends a feral new dimension to their hypnotic post-metal sound. Welcome back.

DrudkhA Furrow Cut Short (Season of Mist). Long, flowing songs of Ukrainian black metal, suffused with rage and sorrow for times long past. Their best album since Blood in Our Wells.

First FragmentDasein (Unique Leader Records). Dizzying, virtuosic, and playful technical death, with the odd jaunt into Latin rhythm… and it’s not a Gorod release? Uh-oh.

Forteresse Thèmes pour la Rébellion (Sepulchral Productions). A blazing black metal conflagration so authentic you’d think it’s from 1996 Norway or Sweden, not 2016 Quebec.

High SpiritsMotivator (High Roller Records). The heavy metal/rockers return with another killer collection of high-energy ‘80s ear candy. Goes down easy like a cold beer at a smoky venue.

Lotus ThiefGramarye (Prophecy Productions). The Devil’s Blood swirled through with Pink Floyd: a bewitching blend of post-black metal and space rock psychedelia, with lyrics inspired by ancient texts. Cliffs Notes not included.

MyrathLegacy (Verycords). Tunisia’s power-prog superstars add a sharper pop sensibility to their luxurious, Arabic-accented sound, particularly on standouts like the epic “Believer” and the Journey-like “Get Your Freedom Back.”

Negative VoiceCold Redrafted (Inverse Records). Mournful doom/death from Moscow, with haunting melodies, tasteful keyboards, and a sound that recalls Rapture, Slumber, and old Katatonia.

Thy CatafalqueMeta (Season of Mist). One of metal’s most unique acts – mixing black metal, breakbeat, industrial, doom, and Hungarian music – returns with another fascinating and unpredictable odyssey.

VredehammerViolator (Indie Recordings). Blasting black/death with strains of sneaky melody. The vocals and occasional groove recall Lamb of God in their early, finest years.

Non-Metal for Metalheads

BoyfrndzImpulse (Brutal Panda Records). Yes, the name is weird, but the music – noisy and angular, then shimmering and swooning – reminds me of Burst, Isis, or Iron Thrones.

Dan TerminusThe Wrath of Code (Blood Music). The retrowave craze continues to explode like Emil Antonowsky all over Officer Lewis’ windshield. Here’s another pulsing, high-energy artist to follow if you like Perturbator, Dance with the Dead, Carpenter Brut, and the like.

Emma Ruth RundleMarked for Death (Sargent House). Dark, wounded, and powerful folk that sounds like Neko Case fronting A Perfect Circle one moment, Sixteen Horsepower the next.

Mondo DragThe Occultation of Light (Riding Easy Records). Previous albums from this SF-based psychedelic outfit were breezy and groovy, but this moves into occult rock/retro doom territory and the results are smokin.’

PerturbatorThe Uncanny Valley (Blood Music). Still the best, and most consistent, of all of the retrowave artists mining our collective VHS-recorded memory for pulsing tech-noir action soundtracks.

Soft KillChoke (Profound Lore Records). Electronic-tinged post-punk, like a modern day Joy Division or Chameleons. Not your usual Profound Lore signing, but that speaks to the quality here.

Pleasant Surprises

Throes of DawnOur Voices Shall Remain (Argonauta Records). Each time this Finnish group reappears, they’re different: raw black metal, then florid symphonic black metal, then mopey ambient goth. Now they’re playing melancholy progressive rock like Riverside or Pink Floyd. Another album in this style would be just fine, guys.

MegadethDystopia (Tradecraft). Okay, so Megadeth never left. In fact, their output has been pretty steady – I just haven’t wanted to listen to anything since Cryptic Writings. This one is really good though – certainly better than the album put out by Dave’s ‘old’ band!

Most Disappointing

MetallicaHardwired… to Self-Destruct (Blackened Recordings). I was optimistic this time. I really was. It has some of their best songs since The Black Album (and hey, I liked much of Load/Reload), but the rest is still tired and overlong and uninspiring. It’s certainly not competitive with anything that’s been going on in metal for the last 25+ years, let alone their vaunted classic albums. Maybe I was too hopeful.

Dream TheaterThe Astonishing (Roadrunner Records). Scenes from a Memory is one of my favorite DT albums, so when I heard they’d be doing another concept album of bombastic Broadway metal – and a double one, at that – I was thrilled. Yet this just left me cold; the ballads too breathy, the metal too muted. It’s especially underwhelming after a recent triumph like A Dramatic Turn of Events. Now that was Astonishing.

Wodensthrone Broke Up. Back in March, Britain’s pagan black metal warriors lay down their swords and vanished into the mists of time. At least they’ve left us with two terrific albums – one of them my #1 pick of 2012 – as well as one of my favorite metal tracks of all-time, the mighty and stirring epic “Wyrgthu.”

Agalloch Broke Up. Over the past 15 years, Agalloch has stretched the boundaries of black metal with their weathered, elegant, and expansive sound, and cleared the way for hordes of USBM, post-black metal, and blackgaze artists to come. The Mantle is still one of my favorite albums of the 2000’s. And my longsleeve from that 2003 show still fits!

Great Older Albums I’d Never Heard Before

Fields of the NephilimElizium (Beggars Banquet). Seriously, how did I miss this during my mid-90s goth/industrial phase?

Uncle Acid & the DeadbeatsBlood Lust (Rise Above Records). Buzzy, Sabbath-y stomps, creepy grooves, and more hooks than a Hammer Horror torture chamber.

Battle AxeBurn This Town (Music for Nations). Don’t let the crappy cover art fool you – this is a prime slab of NWOBHM, yet I’ve rarely heard them mentioned alongside Maiden, Saxon, or Priest.

Favorite Cover Art (in alphabetical order)

You’ll find all of these, and much more, in my collection here: https://www.pinterest.com/jordanitkowitz/metal-album-art/

16Lifespan of a Moth
Altered PerceptionsRise of Ruins
Bedowyn – Blood of the Fall
Brutally DeceasedSatanic Corpse
Boreworm – Entomophobia
Dead in the MangerCessation
Deny the CrossAlpha Ghoul
Freya Grim
GrondWorship the Kraken
Hail Spirit NoirMayhem in Blue
HexvesselWhen We are Death
Hierophant Mass Grave
High FighterScars and Crosses
Holy SerpentTemples
Inter ArmaParadise Gallows
Kayo Dot – Plastic House on Base of Sky
LeprousThe Congregation
Lesbian Hallucinogenesis
MacabraTo the Bone
Magick Touch – Electrick Sorcery
Meek is Murder – Was
MonoRequiem for Hell
Mountain WitchBurning Village
A Sense of Gravity – Atrament
Tardive DyskinesiaHarmonic Confusion
Thy Catafalque Meta
Trees of EternityHour of the Nightingale
Usurpress The Regal Tribe
The Vision BleakKindred of the Sunset
Wounded Kings Visions in Bone

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  1. Commented by: Nick Taxidermy

    Jordan, I was literally just listening to that Perturbator record. so good.

  2. Commented by: TowardsTheHum

    Dead Register! Might be my fave album of 2016.

  3. Commented by: speedrider

    Hail Humiliation!!!

  4. Commented by: Glenn Whitehead

    The Metallica doesn’t have a decent melody or vocal delivery anywhere. It sounds like Hetfield shouting atonally over some mediocre thrash and Hamster sprayed Wah-Wah nonsense. Weak.

  5. Commented by: Nick Taxidermy

    Yeah that Dead Register disc made my list too.

  6. Commented by: bast

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