1. Cult of Luna and Julie Christmas – Mariner
Innovative Swedish heavyweights Cult of Luna countered the departure of founding guitarist Erik Olofsson with the addition – at least for Mariner, their eighth album – of Brooklyn-based ex-Made Out Of Babies frontwoman Julie Christmas, whose vocals add a whole new dimension to the band’s otherworldly post-metal. Mariner’s steam-punky journey – part old nautical yarn, part sci-fi adventure – unfolds over five ever-more-epic tracks that eschew standard structure in favor of a series of movements that make for a compelling narrative thread and cinematic scale. Despite its often droning, potentially suffocating sound, Mariner’s 55 minutes rarely drag, a testament to the band’s considerable skill at creating mood and drama and working with dynamics to craft something that not only holds your attention but is often downright mesmerizing. Christmas certainly helps in that regard, as her voice – from its gentle lilt to its shrill screech – provides the contrast to the ursine roar of guitarists Johannes Persson and Fredrik Kihlberg. Mariner is a virtually flawless, endlessly fascinating work – a grand experiment that pays off big time again and again.
- Myrkur – Mausoleum
Recorded live at the Emanuel Vigeland Mausoleum in Oslo, Norway, Mausoleum, features bare bones, acoustic renditions of seven songs from Danish black metal provocateur Myrkur’s 2015 debut album M and eponymous 2014 EP, one new song and a stunning cover of Bathory’s “Song to Hall Up High.” Myrkur, aka Amalie Bruun, performs the material accompanied only by ex-Ulver guitarist Håvard Jorgensen, a piano and the occasional gentle harmonies of the Norwegian Girls Choir. In this setting, and with this “unplugged” folk-like approach, Myrkur’s music is utterly captivating, even magical. Bruun’s crystalline, haunting vocals, a frequent presence on her electrified work – though often contrasted by equally feral caterwauling when things go full black metal – are given free rein to shine here given the minimalist musical backing. And shine they do. Delicate and disarming, yet always somewhat melancholy – especially on the spellbinding “Song to Hall Up High” – her voice sends chills as it echoes through the cave-like setting.
- Abbath – Abbath
Season of Mist
Depending on who you believe, ex-Immortal frontman Abbath was either too drunk for his bandmates to continue with him or his bandmates were too damn lazy for him to continue with them. Either way, Abbath ventured out on his own in 2015 with his eponymous and rather amorphous new band – ex-Gorgoroth bassist King Ov Hell being the lone other constant – and in late January unleashed his self-titled debut that is arguably the best album Immortal never made. Indeed, his bandmates have accused Abbath of pinching material Immortal started working on before the split and retooling it for his own album. Nevertheless, Abbath’s debut is vicious, hooky and fiendishly inspired mainstream black metal at its finest. And as Abbath has been touring his ass off since announcing his new endeavor, he’s made an indelible stamp while his former bandmates are only just now getting things rolling again. So he may have had a point.
- Gojira – Magma
- Katatonia – The Fall of Hearts
- Anthrax – For All Kings
- Ihsahn – Arktis
- First Fragment – Dasein
Unique Leader Records
- Vredehammer – Violator
- Fates Warning – Theories of Flight
Inside Out Music
- Revocation – Great Is Our Sin
Metal Blade Records
- Rebaelliun – The Hell’s Decrees
- Meshuggah – The Violent Sleep Of Reason
Nuclear Blast Records
- The Dillinger Escape Plan – Disassociation
- Gadget – The Great Destroyer
- Hyperion – Seraphical Euphony
Black Lion Productions
- Veilburner – The Obscene Rite
- Anaal Nathrakh – The Whole Of The Law
Metal Blade Records
- Ulcerate – Shrines Of Paralysis
- Oracles – Miserycorde
Best Live Album: Myrkur – Mausoleum
Best EP: Agoraphobic Nosebleed – Arc
Best Concert: Gojira/TesseracT, The Fillmore, Silver Spring, Md., Sept. 21.
Best new band: Abbath and Oracles, both of whom deserve an asterisk, as Abbath had a long history with Immortal before their messy split and Oracles is essentially System Divide with new female vocalist Sanna Salou – after that band split when frontman Sven de Caluwe (also of Aborted) and co-vocalist Miri Milman divorced. But from the ashes, two great “new” bands emerged.
Best Discovery: Furia – Polish “nekrofolk” that is way better than their hokey self-description makes them sound. The band’s new EP, Guido, and full-length Księżyc milczy luty, issued but a month apart last fall, offer some occasionaly disorienting, always unique “nekro” black metal that is actually flavored more by post-metal and jazz than folk.
Major events in the metal world: A new Metallica album that was actually pretty darn good, especially the first disc. “The end” of Black Sabbath.
Predictions for 2017: A Big 4 tour, coming to a football stadium near you this summer.