It seems very few people utter a breath about 2016 any more. Probably for good reason, it seemed very much like a culling of revered figures and idols of popular culture, let alone a universal gasp of disbelief at what idiocy we may have unleashed on the world. 2017 isn’t really fairing any marginally better in that department, by a hair strand at best. But whisper it: The music is fantastic. If you want to invest in it of course. Admittedly, this list was compiled at the inset of 2017, but as the halfway stage of this year rapidly approaches, it still holds as an all-star ensemble of killer bands you may have overlooked, some yet to release their brand new material and some you may never have heard of. It seems like a solid enough foundation for this article to still exist, while maintaining some resemblance of relevance. That, and you may be reading this, looking for some new music to listen over the summer. Let’s get started, shall we?
Among all of the things that 2016 brought to us, no matter how good, bad or ugly, collectively, it was a very strong year for new music, hence why I have had an incredibly difficult task assembling a list of just ten albums that have lived on repeat and high volume. My only regret is that there are still albums missed I have yet to listen to, by artists I am yet to discover that could’ve been exemplary. If I were to just leave this to albums I’ve heard this year, Lantlos’ Melting Sun or Black Breath’s Slaves Beyond Death probably would have romped away with this one, despite being out in 2014 and 2015 respectively. There are so many honourable mentions too that a cephalopod with hands need be employed to even fathom counting. But, lo and behold, here are the ten albums from one of humanity’s most troubling years, that I personally consider to be certifiable must-listen experiences:
10. The Maras – Wax Beach
Having never met The Maras personally, it would be safe to say that the brothers from Ontario are a little hyperactive. Not purely because they’ve released a demo, an album and a brand new EP in the space of a year, but the speed, urgency and average length of their songs might have something to do with it. Though Wax Beach could be seen as an expansion of their already superb demo, the re-recordings sound a lot denser and deranged, letting their garage punk snarls and smorgasbord of influences flourish, on what is on one hand a damning indictment on mental health services, but on the other a dizzying rush of genre-bending bliss.
9. Cruz – Culto Abismal
From beginning to end, 2016 has seen some magnificent death metal releases, but few have been quite as memorable as Barcelona quartet Cruz’s Culto Abismal. Injecting crust punk deep into the veins of death metal’s old blood, this untameable hellbeast of an album charges fast and ceases to relent once in motion. Deep growls in their native tongue punctuate the onslaught as a cavalcade of riffs over 40 minutes keeps the monster moving, the perfect balance of speed, technical ability and sickeningly heavy tone serving as Culto Abismal’s addictive centrepiece. Spain may not have the most renowned history in death metal, but on the basis of a debut this strong, Cruz sees reason for that to change very suddenly.
8. Maeth – Shrouded Mountain
With every stride that Maeth take musically, it surpasses and obliterates the last, ensuring their status as one of metal’s must-hear bands. Shrouded Mountain is their third gargantuan footprint and maintains their unique, boundary-warping compositions which straddles the planes of psychedelia and sludge like no other band before them. They also play a mean flute too, to boot. So however Maeth choose to construct their stunning, mostly instrumental journeys, whether taking you soaring through the vast reaches of space or crunching hard down into the Earth’s crust, you can bet that it will be with an energy, passion and talent that you can scarcely conceive, and Shrouded Mountain does not disappoint. Not by a long shot.
7. Bossk – Audio Noir
Always a looming presence on the UK’s stoner/doom scene, even during their split, Bossk’s first release outside of their seminal EP trilogy has catapulted their gorgeous ambient passages and pummeling riffs to unprecedented new heights. Though can be listened as an entire conceptual soundscape, the fragmentation certainly aids the quartet’s longest opus to date and makes every change of pace and tone a stellar moment. Even vocals, while used sparingly, are utilised at their most impactful, shifting what already sounds like ripping your throat out intensity, into ushering in a new Armageddon. Bossk undoubtedly stamped their authority through live performances over the decade their name has existed, but Audio Noir distills that very essence into an immensely satisfying anthology, proving that they are here to stay.
6. Vodun – Possession
Lifting its name from the homophone of voodoo, as well as incorporating aspects of its lifestyle and culture into this very music representing it, this trio from London perform an ungodly racket that’s equal parts punchy to pulse-raising. In arguably one of the most original takes on big, fuzz-saturated grooves in years, the literally spirit-fuelled Vodun drags stoner rock by its ankles and imbues it with a staggering amount of soul. Think Aretha Franklin fronting Kyuss and you’re damn near close. The presentation of the album in a semi-documentary form, with a ritualistic thread running throughout, is a neat touch and grants deeper immersion into Vodun’s already enchanting sledgehammer of force and one of the best hard rock debuts of the decade.
5. Losers – How To Ruin Other People’s Futures
With an album title that scathing, you wouldn’t be wrong thinking there is intense subject matter here. Suitably riled up trio Losers, well versed in their weaving of expansive, luscious atmospheres, frightening buzzsaw synths, distorted guitar attacks and truly thunderous percussion, unleash one of the most adrenaline-surging bouts of electro-rock charged catharsis you could ever hope to listen to. While How To Ruin Other People’s Futures features several bursts of pounding rhythms and explosive instrumentation, it allows enough breathing space for a whirlwind of ambience to take shape, for every conflagration and slow-burner, all with Paul Mullen’s dynamic vocal delivery giving a touch of humanity where chaos could spiral out of control at any given moment. A simply tremendous listen.
4. Youth Code – Commitment To Complications
Certainly one of the most talked about bands of the year and for excellent reason, the Los Angeles duo’s sophomore offering builds upon the vintage analogue synths and drum machines of industrial’s heyday and cleverly sprinkles the zest of their own hardcore upbringings into the formula. The results are nothing short of spectacular. The growth from their debut is undeniably evident, not just as tempos vary and tones are more exploratory, but their whole sound is gigantic on this album making every notion of rage and every raw nerve amplified tenfold. When beats vibrate your skull and melodies claw into your brain like Youth Code’s do, it instigates that addictive property that all EBM enthusiasts have been raving about all year.
3. Noisia – Outer Edges
After mentions for half a decade, then seemingly nonchalantly announced three months before its release, Dutch drum and bass production maestros Noisia have compiled their second studio album, far more abstract and experimental in approach than the trio’s previous Split The Atom. While you will find the same mind-altering, visceral bass lines associated with the Noisia name, it’s the deeper, darker and noticeably slower beats that become the show stealer here. Often quirky in nature and exquisitely composed to emphasise the very best of every minuscule detail, the heavy gestation period for every track, especially the beats-driven numbers, brings a world class finish to what could filter through as an oddity, but arrives as a masterpiece in sound design and further reason to immortalise Noisia as the one of the best the genre has ever seen.
2. The Qemists – Warrior Sound
In the six years since the Brighton drum and bass rock outfit’s last album, they’ve been honing their skills to create dancefloor anarchy on the live circuit, a tenure that has seen their reputation skyrocket as one of the UK’s best independent live acts. Now that energy has finally metamorphosed into The Qemists’ strongest, most consistent blockbuster yet. Fixing both live vocalists as permanent band members, has only benefited the original lightning strike of a production unit, and makes every word have purpose against the backdrop of all-out mayhem. Unforgettable, unbelievable and unflinching in the pursuit of perfect crossover bombshells, Warrior Sound is a sonic shockwave explicitly targeted to induce pleasure at an intoxicating level.
1. All Hail The Yeti – Screams From A Black Wilderness
Three years on from their scorching debut, the Los Angeles metalcore mob return with a follow-up that is perpetually more terrifying in every imaginable way. Spinning narratives so gripping and ghastly, the lines of fact and fiction dissipate into black mist as imposing, monstrous roars with some mightily impressive clean vocal support coalesce their strength as bloodthirsty wordsmiths. Though horror and the occult is the given flavour, Screams… exhibits a previously unseen versatility in All Hail The Yeti, in that their sound features much broader influences from rock and metal, that fires on all cylinders and mellows in acoustic gloom. A hard-hitting, yet gruesome landmark of metalcore, All Hail The Yeti have once again established that they are one of the most essential bands in modern metal.
If you liked the look of this list and want to hear more, then here is a handy Spotify playlist for you (except Maeth, whom you can find on their Bandcamp page):
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So this is a first for the site, as somebody sworn to never do live concert reviews, a run-down of ten stand out live acts that I’ve seen over the course of 2016. And I’ve seen a lot of them. It’s pretty self-explanatory really, only I’m not exactly reviewing them, just highlighting why they made this list. This isn’t limited to headline acts by the way. The only exception that I have made is to try and limit festival appearances, as there were numerous bands seen in the space of a day at some festivals that could’ve made up lists of their own. And I have had to discount one entry that should be on this list, that of being The Offspring and Bad Religion at Hammersmith Apollo. The reason being counting individual performances, both were absolutely superb on the night, more than satisfying the inner 13 year-old in me and being hard torn to pick a favourite, just makes it easier to disallow it altogether. Sorry, no joint entries for this one. Without any further ado, here’s who played stellar live shows in 2016:
10. Raveyards @ Camden Underworld (supporting Perturbator w/ Dan Terminus) – 08/06/16
Bands like Raveyards perfectly demonstrate why you should always try and check out the support bands for a live show. Knowing nothing of them, walking into Underworld with half of the stage consumed by mesh netting, projection screens and one of the most elaborate live musical setups I’ve ever seen was an eyebrow-raiser. Every component of an electronic music performance was in their control and performed in real time, with their expansive shadowy atmospherics and gigantic beats, matched with a kaleidoscope of visuals made for a spell-binding spectacle. Spectators seemed happy to have the space back afterwards, but Raveyards’ attention to detail alone has to garner recognition.
9. Allusondrugs @ The Black Heart, Camden (w/ Fizzy Blood, This Years Ghost and Snakes) – 03/08/16
Always a band on the cusp of greatness, the Yorkshire grunge revivalists played a packed Black Heart and showed everybody why they are one of the most talked about live acts going in the UK right now. Switching between slower psychedelic pinches and frenzied fuzz slammers, all delivered with their inescapable talent for writing infectious hooks, I went into this show, having had some personal bad news that day and left with joy and an affirmation of life once more afterwards. They near had to be dragged off stage after a storming 45 minute performance, but such is their allure and brilliance of their music.
8. Youth Code @ Electrowerkz, Islington (w/ Shallow Sanction and Evestus) – 14/10/16
If there ever was a band that embodied controlled chaos, then Youth Code is that band. Marking their debut in the capital city with their revisionist approach to industrial and EBM, there is no wasted movement from beginning to end of their set, both Sara and Ryan screaming and launching themselves across the stage in a frenetic display. Despite a breadth of luscious synth arpeggios and skull-rattling drum machines, it’s their sprinkle of hardcore, that makes every word screamed at you personal and elevates Youth Code’s all-out sensory assault to an absorbing war dance you never want to end. Can you say: the next Ministry?
7. Jean-Michel Jarre @ The O2 Arena, London – 07/10/16
It kinda goes without saying, that when you go to see a concert from somebody widely regarded as the Godfather of Electronic Music, as a pioneer whose forays into music and technology span 40 years and a former world record holder for the largest outdoor concert ever, you’re in for a spectacle. And having missed the chance six years previously to see him, he did not disappoint. Ever the showman, touring through his greatest hits and his frankly superb Electronica project, his inspiring ability to flawlessly recreate every nuance of his work, live, to a visual extravaganza that evolves much like his compositions can only cement his legacy as one of the most influential figures in modern music.
6. Petrol Bastard @ Resistanz Festival (Corporation, Sheffield) – 25/03/16
I do wonder how many people have said at a Petrol Bastard show, that the duo played their dream set list. I certainly can. Opening up Resistanz Festival in Sheffield’s Corporation was a 45 minute performance piece about masturbation, drinking and violence set to an unrelenting techno, gabba and drum and bass soundtrack… and it was some of the most fun I’d had all year. Forcing crowd participation with a tide of inflatable penises and unforgettable slogans, and with a little help from Johnny Ultraviolence, this crude, colourful riot was impossible to ignore and left many smiling from ear to ear. Plus how many gigs let your girlfriend try to sexually assault one of the band members with an inflatable penis?
5. Monster Zoku Onsomb @ Boomtown Fair, Winchester – 12/08/16
Out of the inconceivable number of bands and pass times at Boomtown Fair, these guys could’ve been easy to miss on one of the smallest stages around. But once in range, you couldn’t escape from them and those onlookers in attendance never wanted this madness to end. A troupe of Australian musicians specialising in belting rave tunes, spanning a whirlwind of tempos, spliced together with B-movie references galore and occasional 60’s surf guitar, happily run amok in their 45 minutes on stage. Choreographed dance routines, inviting an adult baby on stage and what may have been a declaration about being in Eurovision 2017 only added to their unique brand of electronic dance carnage.
4. Toska @ The Boileroom, Guildford (EP Launch Show w/ Eschar, The Deadlights and Steal Rockets) – 27/02/16
Possibly the only headline band I have ever seen without knowing a single thing about, was also one of the most astounding. Made up of three quarters of melodic hard rock starlets Dorje, Toska sacrifice none of that intensity and churn out wave after wave of instrumental metal bliss, hurled at such force you’d think there was an earthquake. The energy they emitted could’ve powered large city blocks and their respective talents are hypnotizing to observe; simply everything about their performance was immense in stature, given their debut recorded release. They made crafting invigorating, progressive music seem so effortless and it was an absolute pleasure to watch them at work.
3. Lionize @ Desertfest London (Camden Underworld) – 29/04/16
In what is somewhat a recurring theme on this list, I went to watch Lionize, only knowing that they were Clutch’s in-house band and left absolutely speechless. Imagine if James Brown had fronted a balls-to-the-wall rock band and invited Bob Marley along as a touring member and that merely scratches the surface of what these gentlemen can do on stage. Ferociously charismatic and passionate beyond all belief, Lionize toured a myriad of genres and had tremendous fun doing it, all with every attendee transfixed at this true powerhouse of a performance. I’m surprised the Underworld didn’t burst having to contend with holding these guys back, one of the most impressive modern rock bands alive today.
2. Kowloon Walled City @ Camden Underworld (co-headliners w/ Minsk, also w/ Bossk and Wren) – 03/09/16
Credit where credit is due, Bossk were also spectacular on this night, but for a band that had never stepped foot in the UK before and had come to the end of a near two-month tour of Europe, emotions were always going to be high for these guys. Kowloon Walled City’s use of conveying so much intensity and feeling into their tone, while being pulverising in the same capacity, makes every note gripping to behold and very, very few bands can even touch them in making sludge sound so breathtaking. Spanning seven songs across 45 minutes, this set made a titanic statement as why Kowloon Walled City could be considered one of the best bands on the planet.
1. Placebo @ Wembley Arena, London (w/ Minor Victories) – 15/12/16
What more can be said about Placebo? Never has a band resonated with me emotionally and spiritually as Placebo has and likely I wouldn’t be where I am today without them. Hell, I wouldn’t have a degree for starters. But there could be no more fitting show for them to play in their hometown on the 20th year of their inception. The atmosphere was electric and applause rapturous as the band strode through a terrific career-spanning set, that touched many through melancholy but lifted everyone through liveliness. Lyrically they have few peers and musically, their grunge-embezzled attack sounds as fresh as it did in June of 1996. Arguably, one of the UK’s greatest cultural phenomenons.
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