Top 5 Albums of 2016 – By Sam

5) Old Corpse Road – “Of Campfires and Evening Mists”
Old Corpse Road are one of England’s underappreciated gems. These gents have been toiling away at their craft since 2007, and they’ve garnered themselves a healthy following on the island – assisted in large part, I’d imagine, by their excellent live shows, one of which I had the good fortune to experience in 2015. They deliver Bal-Sagoth-style black metal heavily steeped in British folklore, and their sophomore album released earlier this year is an impressive demonstration of their capabilities. It’s symphonic and folky and atmospheric and fiercely dark all at the same time. The instrumental track “Sorrow Through Pendle Woods” will pluck at your heartstrings, and you’ll definitely find yourself singing the refrain of “Peg Powler” long after you’ve finished your first playthrough. I hope we’ll soon be seeing more of them here on the continent.

4) Harakiri for the Sky – “III: Trauma”
Earlier this year, I learned that Harakiri for the Sky are the perfect band for headbanging your feelings away. And while things have calmed down for me on an emotional level since I reviewed the band’s third LP this past summer, I still find it to be a thoroughly cathartic listening experience. This Austrian post-metal outfit has a unique gift for melody that really comes to the fore on this album. It’s hard to pick a favorite track, because “III: Trauma” feels like such a well-rounded whole. I suppose I’d have to say “Calling the Rain,” “This Life as a Dagger,” and “Dry the River” are the songs that still grab me the most, all for different reasons. For an album that feels so balanced, there’s an incredible amount of diversity here. But of course, technical aspects aside, the most important thing about “III: Trauma” is ALL THE FEELS.

3) Alcest – “Kodama”
“A return to form.” That’s the phrase you’ll find in probably 90 percent of the reviews of Alcest’s fifth full-length album, “Kodama.” Guys, Neige is screaming again! Guys, blast beats! With such a large segment of the metal community having raised its collective skeptical eyebrow at the band’s fourth LP, “Shelter,” for its gauzy, shoegaze-y atmosphere and complete lack of harsh vocals, it’s no surprise that many of us are quietly (or loudly) celebrating “Kodama’s” heavier sound. In an October interview with Germany’s Silence Magazin, however, Neige said that “Kodama” could never have existed without “Shelter” – and that makes total sense. “Kodama” isn’t “Shelter,” but neither is it “Écailles de Lune;” it’s a different beast, and a thoroughly exciting one, retaining the best of the old and the new Alcest – the fluffy cotton-candy clouds to float away on, with razor-sharp edges to bring you back to earth. My top track: “Oiseaux de proie.”

2) Moonsorrow – “Jumalten Aika”
I was recently informed by an in-the-know friend of mine that the members of Moonsorrow dislike being called “folk metal.” Well, call their music what you want – folk metal, heathen metal, pagan metal – Moonsorrow have always been more than just your run-of-the-mill group of dudes who write funny rhymes about Odin or Thor and toss a jolly keyboard riff or two into the mix. They have a unique and authentic approach that sets them apart. And while I have to admit that they haven’t always been at the top of my playlist, “Jumalten Aika” absolutely blew me away. Maybe the word “masterpiece” is overused, but that’s absolutely what this album is. The vocal harmonies, the driving riffs, the warmth of the folk instruments – the songs are catchy without being cheesy, epic without getting bogged down in their own length. This is the album that finally converted me to hardcore Moonsorrow fandom. My top track: “Ruttolehto incl. Päivättömän päivän kansa”

1) Waldgeflüster – “Ruinen”
I decided to review “Ruinen” on a whim this past fall; I had never listened to Waldgeflüster before, but “naturverbundener” German atmospheric black metal sounded like it might be right up my alley. My relationship with the band’s fourth full-length was a slow burn – you can safely ignore the number score I gave it in my original review, since it was way too low – but “Ruinen” has grown on me in a way that no other album ever has (with the possible exception of Dornenreich’s “Flammentriebe,” now one of my all-time favorites). I haven’t been able to stop listening to it. It has a rich and haunting autumnal atmosphere that is incredibly addictive and a perfect backdrop for this time of year here in Germany. And the lyrics are truly something special. I tried to pick a favorite song to mention here, but I realized my favorites comprise well over half the album (I guess that’s not hard, with song lengths averaging around 10 minutes). All I can say is: Don’t miss this album, and make sure to give it the time it deserves.

Honorable mentions:
Rotting Christ – “Rituals” I was *this nclose* to putting this album in my top 5, because it is absolutely sick – but then, I expect nothing less from veteran metallers like Rotting Christ. I would wholeheartedly recommend this album to any “new-school” Rotting Christ fan (those of us who love everything from Theogonia onwards). “For a Voice Like Thunder” is one of my favorite songs of the year.

Saor – “Guardians” I am a huge Saor fan, and I really enjoyed “Guardians.” It didn’t make my top 5 this year because, for whatever reason, it didn’t strike the same emotional chord with me as the previous two Saor albums. But it’s an impressive work of art deserving a place in the collection of any atmospheric black metal fan.
Schammasch – “Triangle” This one was simply too much for my top 5 to handle. A triple album of some of the most intense, spiritual avant-garde black metal out there. It came out in spring, and I still haven’t been able to fully wrap my head around it. That’s a good thing.