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Monday, January 16, 2017

Toby's Top 10...Err 11...of 2016

Being that we’re already two weeks into 2017, let me be the last to wish everyone a happy new year.  My words don’t grace the pages of Heavy Planet as often as they once did, but I can tell you that I still follow this amazing music scene as fervently as I always have.  As a result, I’ve got a few records I’d like to share with you all.  Some of these have already been mentioned by Reg and the other members of the excellent HP staff and some may be new even to them.  So without further ado, here are my favorite albums from 2016.

11) Feller Buncher – 203040

For starters, yes I’m including a #11 this year.  The reason being is that technically this is not a full length album, but rather a 5 song EP.  But it’s so fucking good that I just couldn’t resist including it here, so voila, we have a list that goes to 11!  Now a feller buncher…in case you’re wondering, as I was…is one of those massive harvesting machines that’s capable of cutting (felling) and gathering (bunching) several trees at a time.  They’re heavy machines that can cause a lot of destruction in a short amount of time.  And that pretty much sums up this EP.  Hailing from Paris, France, Feller Buncher combine mammoth riffs with a melodic, drill sergeant bark (think Neil Fallon meets Mike Patton), and some of the best drum work on display in 2016.  Had 203040 been stretched into a full length, this very likely would have been my favorite album of the year.  Check out “After You” for a quick hit sample.

10) Wretch – S/T

The self-titled debut from this Indianapolis power trio is much, much more than a simple doom record.  Wretch is a band that has risen from the ashes of what was once, doom stalwarts The Gates of Slumber.  When Jason McCash, former bassist for that band, passed away in 2014, vocalist/guitarist Karl Simon decided not to carry on under the moniker of his original band out of respect for his fallen brother.  Taking the new band name from the title of the final Gates of Slumber album, Simon recruited drummer Chris Gordon, who had played with Slumber on and off in the past, and newcomer Bryce Clarke on bass.  The resulting debut record is one of immense sorrow, pain, and regret all buried beneath a wall of plodding riffs.  Simon himself says that he’s “often on the verge of tears while playing,” and I can’t think of anything more sincere than that.  This is the real deal folks, pure emotion set to music and the results are staggering.  Give a listen to “Rest in Peace” for a sample.

9) Greenleaf – Rise above the Meadow

This one was released way back in February and was probably the first record of 2016 that I absolutely knew would end up on this list.  Greenleaf are kind of an interesting band given that the only consistent member is guitarist Tommi Holappa of Dozer fame.  The band was originally a sort of side project for members of various Swedish bands (Demon Cleaner, Lowrider, Truckfighters, the aforementioned Dozer), but seems to have become Holappa’s primary gig.  You’ll get no complaints from me.  Rise Above the Meadow sees the band taking a leaner, meaner approach to what we heard on 2014’s Trails and Passes and that’s evident right from the opening punch of “A Million Fireflies.”  Don’t get me wrong, Greenleaf still showcases their bluesy backbone throughout the album, but there’s an urgency here that I didn’t hear on its predecessor.  Put plainly, this thing rocks.  Check out “Howl” for a taste of what to expect. 

8) Whores. - Gold

Atlanta’s Whores. proudly carry the torch for early 90’s noise rock, bringing it screaming into the modern era and shoving it right up the ass of today’s PC culture.  The band pummels your eardrums with feedback laced guitar and militaristic drums while vocalist/guitarist Christian Lembach channels his inner-David Yow as he screeches on “Baby Teeth”…“this place is a joke, always broke…cannot save, what I don’t own.”  Yeah these guys are pissed the fuck off.  As with it’s title and cover art, the album is drenched in dark humor and scathing social commentary.  Check out the track “I See You Are Also Wearing a Black T-Shirt” where Lembach screams ”can’t pretend it’s getting better, can we talk about the weather?…or something else benign…can’t you see we’re closing in, on end times.”  Yeah, listening to Gold will bring you back to a time when Amphetamine Reptile Records ruled the underground and bands like Helmet were on the verge of blowing up the mainstream.  Whores. are the last of a dying breed, they are the noisiest, most chaotic band making music these days, and I’m here to tell you, chaos never sounded so good.

7) Dinosaur Jr. – Give a Glimpse of What Yer Not

This is the 4th album released by the original Dinosaur Jr. lineup of J Mascis (guitar/vocals), Lou Barlow (bass/vocals), and Murph (drums) since their reunion in 2005 and it has all the hallmarks of the band’s feedback drenched sound that made them alt-rock heroes in the late 80’s and early 90’s.  Heavy Planet readers will likely be more familiar with Mascis’ stoner rock side project, Witch, but shouldn’t sleep on the band that made the man famous.  Dinosaur Jr. are masters of layering fuzzed out tones under mountains of distortion all the while keeping a keen sense of melody as Mascis delivers his signature whine.  Sure, underneath all that fuzz, these are in essence pop songs, but Dinosaur Jr. somehow manage to make them sound incredibly heavy.  Check out “I Walk for Miles” and hear for yourself.  Dinosaur Jr. may not be what you’d typically think of as “heavy,” but that word can mean a lot of things and to my ears, Give a Glimpse of What Yer Not earns a well deserved spot on this list.  

6) 1000Mods – Repeated Exposure To…

I got into 1000Mods after hearing their contribution to our first HP compilation Bong Hits from the Astral Basement back in 2013, and I kept right on getting into them with the release of their 2014 album Vultures.  With this latest record, the four piece from Chiliomodi, Greece picks right up where they left off with a heavy dose of low end grooves, tasty riffs, and fuzz for days.  Fun fact…1000Mods is a play on words related to the band’s hometown, as “chilia” means 1000 in Greek.  Right from the opening churn of “Above 179,” the band’s massive dual guitar assault is evident and as you make your way through the record, that heavy riffage gives way to introspective solos and nuanced vocals that add depth and layers to these songs.  I’ve noticed Truckfighters popping up on festival bills around the U.S. over the past couple of years and it seems to me that Repeated Exposure To… may just be the album that similarly brings 1000Mods over to the U.S. for some well deserved…well…exposure. 

5) Droids Attack – Sci-Fi or Die

It had been about six years since we last heard from Madison, Wisconsin’s Droids Attack by the time they finally released Sci-Fi or Die.  A rotating cast of bass players was to blame for the delay, and in Darwin Sampson, the band finally found the yin to drummer Tony Brungraber’s yang.  On this latest record, Droids Attack bobs and weaves in and out of stoner rock, punk, and thrash as the trio, rounded out by vocalist/guitarist Brad Van, rage full steam ahead as if they’ve got to make up for the lost time in pure volume and aggression.  Check out the crushing “Brahma Astra” for a sample of the aural devastation as Van screams “your prayers will not protect you” over a bouncing groove that’ll have your neck snapping to and fro in no time.  Six years is a long time to wait for a new record from anyone, but Droids Attack make quick work of reminding everyone what they’re capable of on Sci-Fi or Die.  Also, this is the only stoner rock album I heard in 2016 that had a saxophone solo (“Mashenomak Strikes Again”) so there’s also that.   

4) High Fighter – Scars and Crosses

High Fighter, from Hamburg, Germany, burst onto the scene in 2016 with a debut album that most bands will struggle entire careers trying to match in intensity, musicianship, and pure quality.  Sure, the band is plenty heavy enough, what with dual guitars playing off of each other, creating mammoth riffs and moody atmospherics, but its the dynamic vocals of Mona Miluski that made this album standout amongst its peers.  Listen to the album opening “A Silver Heart” where her voice morphs from a beautifully haunting musical accompaniment into a demonic shriek that’ll have hairs standing on the back of your neck.  It’s as if Angela Gossow dropped death metal and decided to front a stoner band.  “The Gatekeeper” is another great example of Miluski’s range and of the band’s ability to match her intensity with swirling guitars and a gut punching rhythm section.  Easily one of the best records of 2016…and to think this was High Fighter’s debut.

3) Kvelertak - Nattesferd

My boy Reg already mentioned the show stealing performance we witnessed from Kvelertak (Norwegian for stranglehold), who played alongside Torche and The Sword, among others, when we saw them back in the Spring of 2016.  Don’t get me wrong, I was already a fan of the band based on the self-described “death and roll” that I’d heard on their 2013 record Meir and their 2011 self-titled debut.  But something about seeing this six piece (yes…six piece) lose their shit live really puts their music in a new perspective, so I was eagerly anticipating the release of Nattesferd.   Whether its the album’s single “1985” or a song like “Svartmesse,” Kvelertak is kind of like taking hair band guitars, stoner rock grooves, and a death metal vocalist and throwing it all in a blender.  To be sure, Nattesferd lived up to the expectations I had for it and this Norwegian juggernaut continues to be one of the more interesting bands on the scene today. 

2) Youngblood Supercult – High Plains

Youngblood Supercult are a trippy, bluesy, psyche band from Topeka, Kansas who describe themselves as “a sinister, fuzzy ride through a lysergic version of the Midwest.”  Now that sounds like something we can all get onboard with, don’t you agree?  Listening to High Plains was certainly a hazy trip that I returned to again and again in 2016.  With its swirling, fuzz laced guitars and almost lo-fi sounding production, if you closed your eyes while listening, you may have been inclined to think you’d been transported back in time to the 1970’s.  Vocalist David Merrill alternates between quiet, seance-like passages and over the top crooning, as the band combines dirgey Sabbath riffs with the folksy side of Zeppelin.  Easily one of my favorite records of last year.  “Nomad” is my recommendation for a quick sample.

1) Backwoods Payback – Fire Not Reason

Released in December, Fire Not Reason came out of nowhere right at the end of the year, snuck into my top 10 and then quickly raced right to the top.  Backwoods Payback, from West Chester, Pennsylvania, are everything I love about this music…no filler, no wasted time, just straight to the point, kick ass, heavy rock n’ roll.  The first track, “Elephants” could not be more aptly titled (it’s as heavy as all fuck) and the three-piece unleash hell from the get go with a barrage of monolithic riffs as vocalist/guitarist Mike Cummings lets forth a blood curdling howl, all within the first 15 seconds of the album’s runtime.  Right then and there you’ll be hooked.  On subsequent tracks like “Dirge,” “Tuxedo,” and “That Dream Again,” bassist Jessica Baker and drummer Erik Larson lay a steady foundation of massive groove as Cummings’ guitar washes over it all in glorious, reverb-laced, aural destruction.  Even the stripped down, acoustic “Even Odds” carries a weighty tone that delivers an emotional impact to the listener and serves as a perfect segue into the album’s final third.  That’s the thing about Fire Not Reason, every song is perfectly placed, they’re all killer, and Backwoods Payback waste not a second of your time.  This is a band and an album that gets right to the point, and likewise, I’ll get right to mine…this was my favorite record of 2016 and one that I’m continuing to return to over and over.  My sampling recommendation on this one is to simply hit play and let it roll.  

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