Dr. Albert Mudrian VII said it himself in our year-end issue (#147, January 2017, Metallica cover): Consensus was an elusive beast when it came time to celebrate 2016’s biggest, heaviest triumphs. The truth is that the sheer breadth of the metallic spectrum this year made it hard to focus, and each amazing release whispered something dark and special into different ears. My personal list of favorites was only sparsely represented in the combined effort, though the records that made the cut are hardly unworthy usurpers. There was just too much interesting music this year, and listening choices required sorting by individual taste rather than quality.
After the dust settled and forty records were assigned a place on Decibel’s vaunted list, five remained that probably could have swapped places with anything else on the list without causing any greater/lesser irritation than lists like this already stir up. Why should they get left out? Here are the five records that tied for #41 on our Top 40 Albums of 2016.
Which albums are we still missing?
#41. Withered – Grief Relic (Season of Mist)
Mike Thompson’s vehicle of unbridled misery and rage has certainly been missed since the emergence of Dualitas six years ago. In Grief Relic, a new lineup shapes another approach to the angular and chaotic brew that has attracted fans for the past ten years. There’s unmatched fury in Thompson’s vocal delivery, but there’s also soaring beauty buried in the murk. Right where it should be.
#41. Dark Tranquillity – Atoma (Century Media)
These favorite sons of Gothenburg have rarely put a foot wrong in their long, proud history, and Atoma is a strong argument for their continued relevance. It’s neither overwrought nor undercooked, neither too self-involved nor careless. Atoma is a regal document of mature melodic death metal by a band who are used to ruling the stage and plan to continue doing so. Songs charge forward, dropping your favorite part right before dropping your next favorite part, on and on for nearly an hour. Some listeners might call their sound dated, but that’s only accurate if not sucking is out of fashion.
#41. Mithras – On Strange Loops (Willowtip)
Being an immediate acolyte of Sarpanitum’s phenomenal Blessed Be My Brothers.. last year, I’m unsure how I missed this manic death gem, whose personnel shares drummer/guitarist/vocalist Leon Macey. The bulky structures within these twelve songs heave and swell in exciting directions. Like Sarpanitum, Mithras project a spiked and slashing darkness even while exhibiting such care and precision in the layout of riffs and drum patterns. It’s mesmerizing and damn near essential.
#41. Sumerlands – Sumerlands (Relapse)
In this world of ever-fractalizing subgenres, it can be easy for the muscular, old-school, so-called “true” metal approach to get lost in the mix. In the bustle of the loudness wars and each band scrambling to out-brutalize the last, the meat-and-potatoes, riff-and-solo, leather-and-steel bit can seem a bit quaint. Until it rules this hard, at which point it all seems downright necessary. Sumerlands might not have been around for long, but individual band members have a background littered with powerful performances. Rev up the baddest ass engine in your garage (mine’s a Subaru Forester), find a sunset to ride toward, and queue up this entrancing record to get in touch with your inner road warrior.
#41. Darkthrone – Arctic Thunder (Peaceville)
Um, it’s fucking Darkthrone. Arctic Thunder didn’t make it into the top forty because, I don’t know, its title didn’t include either “Transylvanian” or “Hunger” and the cover art didn’t come off a shitty Xerox machine. Maybe it would have fared better if it had been called Tropic Thunder and had featured Robert Downey, Jr. and Jack Black on keys and saxophone. Whatever. Fenriz and Nocturno Culto return to wrap your bones in ice and set your brain on fire. When one of our scene’s prime tastemakers shows us exactly what he’d like to hear with a new set of songs, you either listen or you don’t matter. It’s fucking Darkthrone.