Best of 2016: 10-6

khemmis-cover10. KHEMMIS, “Hunted” (20 Buck Spin): In just four years, Denver’s Khemmis already have accomplished enough to make them one of the most exciting younger bands in metal. Their 2014 debut “Absolution” put them on the map, but it was this autumn’s great “Hunted” that pushed them into special territory. It took no time at all for people to catch onto the album (Decibel recently named it its No. 1 album of the year), and the music packed into this album sounds like that of a band just coming to realize their true powers and are willing to spread their energy across the world.

At five songs and nearly 44 minutes, you’d probably be led to believe you are going to encounter a handful of dense epics. The songs definitely are meaty and heavily packed, but it’s amazing how much life and energy pulsate from these songs. The tracks are heavy and smothered with killer riffs, but they also have great melodies and cool hooks that keep you coming back for more. They also can get punishing and grisly (the harshness of “Three Gates”) in case you need a bit of brutality, but this one mostly shines on its blistering catchiness. Khemmis have made a record that should start pushing them further into people’s awareness, and it won’t be long until they’re one of metal’s unquestioned forces. If they aren’t that already. (Oct. 21)

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Blood Incantation cover9. BLOOD INCANTATION, “Starspawn” (Dark Descent): It’s not terribly common or easy for a band to generate the amount of pre-release excitement that Blood Incantation drummed up for their debut album “Starspawn,” but these guys certainly did just that. Much of that comes from their amazing EP “Interdimensional Extinction” that arrived a year earlier and generated a serious fervor, and the promise displayed by that collection had death metal feasters frothing at the mouth for what was to come on their full-length release.

It was clear mere moments into tackling “Starspawn’s” mammoth opening track, the 13:38-long “Vitrification of Blood Part I,” as it starts to stretch its grip across the universe, that something is different and special here. Yes, you’re getting a huge dose of violently played classic death metal, but mixed into that are murky, crushing forays into the cosmos toward things humankind only could dream of experiencing before. The band, comprised of guitarist/vocalist Paul Riedel (Spectral Voice, Abysmal Dimensions), guitarist Morris Kolontyrsky (Spectral Voice, Stillborn Fawn), bassist Jeff Barrett (Spectral Voice, ex-Velnias), and drummer Isaac Faulk (Wayfarer, Abysmal Dimensions) can devastate you physically and put a toll on your body, but you’ll also be stretched intellectually. That forces you away from physical experience and into something that’s above and beyond where we can go with our bodies alone. This band may have set the entire death metal world on an entirely new course. (Aug. 18)

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pow8. PALACE OF WORMS, “The Ladder” (Broken Limbs): Balan has done some immense, dramatic things with his Palace of Worms project, and “The Ladder” is his most fascinating effort so far. PoW always has been black metal at its base, but from there, he always has branched out in other directions and brought different elements to his sound’s chemistry. That continues on this record, an out-of-the-ordinary experience, even for someone familiar with Balan’s decade of work. This is the third Palace of Worms record, and the first since 2010, with the wait being well worth it since this knocked us, and I’m sure most of its listeners, for a loop.

While this is Balan’s project, he’s joined by other notable musicians such as fellow members of the Bay Area music scene, with Bezaelith (Lotus Thief) adding backing vocals on two tracks; Ephemeral Domignostika (Mastery, Pale Chalice) offering soloing on two cuts; and Mattia Alagna (Abstracter, Atrament) providing vocals/lyrics on the track “Wreathe.” You are met with the unpredictability on opening cut “In the Twilight Divide,” where flourishes of classical music clash with metallic fury; “Nightworld” has a doomy atmosphere and a moody pace, with Balan lamenting, “Cannot escape you, cannot reason with you,”; and “Strange Constellations,” where Balan howls, “The stage is set for annihilation!” is pure fire. This is another wondrous experience with Palace of Worms, a record that still reveals itself even after a million listens. (April 8)

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auroch-cover7. AUROCH “Mute Books” (Profound Lore): There’s plenty of good death metal out there, but not all of it leaves you feeling like you’ve been burned in a furnace and smeared all over the ground. Auroch’s records, especially their new one “Mute Books,” are like a physical degradation, as their technically insane playing pulls you through pits of damage and spits out your chewed-up body. It’s weird that this record hasn’t gotten more attention this year, and its release date cannot be blamed, so are people just sound asleep? This is some great work. Get with this.

The band—vocalist/guitarist Sebastian Montesi, vocalist/bassist Shawn Haché, and drummer Zack Chandler—certainly jumps into the weirdest sections of hell on this record, a seven-track, 30-minute burst that is perfectly timed and explosively effective. From the opener “Billowing Vervain” that starts in an eerie fog before the Earth is gorged, through to “Say Nothing” that has swirling choral parts before unleashing war-torn damage before a sci-fi-splashed ending, and into closer “Cup of Hemlock” that fucks up your mind just like the title hints that it might, you’re left gripping for safety. You never feel quite the same after an Auroch record, and this third album of theirs “Mute Books” will incinerate your soul to a crisp.  (Oct. 21)

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ustalost-cover6. USTALOST, “The Spoor of Vipers” (Sibir): There are those bands that come out of nowhere every year, rendering you useless until you can get the music out of your bloodstream. Ustalost, the project of Yellow Eyes member Will Skarstad, is one of those forces, and “The Spoor of Vipers,” the debut record under that banner, is one that had a serious impact. Funny enough, we didn’t write up this record on the site this year, and here it is this high on the list. But that happens. You discover something way later than you should have, and it ends up devouring a shit ton of your time. Then again, we might have time to give this full treatment early next year. More on that at the end.

Like his work in Yellow Eyes, much of what is on this record is grounded in black metal. But it pushes further than that an injects melodies that cause your blood cells to freeze up and the parts of your mind that allows you to break beyond your cranium and reach onto new things. Here, six tracks that run over 43 minutes all get simple Roman numeral names. That’s a nice touch, and it prevents preconceived notions from entering your thinking and just lets you absorb the music. “I” has a murky entrance before it opens its doors to delirium and dreamy haze; “II” follows in a similar path and is bathed in sinewy riffs and thick basslines, with the shrieks piercing the flesh; “IV’ feels like an out-of-body experience with its synth wash and echoed screams; and “VI” flexes its prog muscles while bloodying your lip with black metal creativity. Oh, as hinted, it’s also not too late to get on board with this thing. Gilead Media has the vinyl version up for pre-order, with records set to arrive in late winter. (April 5)

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