Music

The Best Metal of 2016

Adrien Begrand celebrates the best heavy metal of the year in all of its thrilling diversity.

Artist: Voivod

Album: Post Society

Label: Century Media

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Voivod
Post Society

The first release since the departure of original bassist Jean-Yves "Blacky" Therieault, this 30-minute EP by the Canadian progressive metal innovators proves, once again, that they're still full of ideas. Alternately echoing the idiosyncrasy of classic albums Dimension Hatross and Nothingface and the d-beat speed of Discharge and Motörhead, the foursome tear through five blistering tracks, highlighted by the epic "We Are Connected" -- featuring some phenomenal guitar work by Dan "Chewy" Mongrain -- and the unabashedly joyous and creative cover of Hawkwind's "Silver Machine".

 
Artist: Oceans of Slumber

Album: Winter

Label: Century Media

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List number: 19

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Oceans of Slumber
Winter

Featuring powerhouse singer Cammie Gilbert, Houston's Oceans of Slumber delivered a stunning debut album with Century Media Records, one that delves into the more progressive side of extreme metal with astonishing discipline and song craft. Like the Gathering and Witch Mountain, the band puts an original spin on what defines heavy metal singing, as Gilbert creates a wonderful dynamic between strong, forceful vocals and a more sensitive side. The end result is a progressive doom album with heart, whether on the stunning title track or the daring, haunting cover of the Moody Blues' "Nights in White Satin".

 
Artist: Gorguts

Album: Pleiades' Dust

Label: Season of Mist

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List number: 18

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Gorguts
Pleiades' Dust

In a year where much of death metal spun its wheels, Canada's great Gorguts continued to show incredible breadth and creativity in 2016. Arriving on the heels of 2013's landmark Colored Sands, the spellbinding 33-minute composition "Pleiades' Dust" continues Luc Lemay's career-long experimentation with melody and atonality within death metal. Again, he has been aided by bassist Colin Marston and guitarist Kevin Hufnagel -- as members of Disrhythmia they are no slouches themselves -- and along with drummer Patrice Hamelin the foursome crate an ebb and flow over half an hour that shows, like so few in the genre have dome as of late, just how much range this harsh form of music can have.

 
Artist: Vektor

Album: Terminal Redux

Label: Earache

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List number: 17

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Vektor
Terminal Redux

Easily one of the most wildly inventive new bands of the last five years, Arizona's Vektor are evolving at a rate that often seems dizzying, putting a unique spin on thrash metal. At the same time, though, that ambition and boundless energy had led to a pair of very busy albums that would benefit from a little editing. However, just like 2011's Outer Isolation, the 73-minute Terminal Redux is impossible not to admire. Little hints of 1980s thrash are scattered throughout, the virtuosic musicianship echoing the likes of Sacrifice, Voivod, and Annihilator, but coupled with the beauty-in-chaos style of Chuck Schuldiner of Death, the band catapults a rigid sound into the 21st century, sounding vibrant and highly original.

 
Artist: Oranssi Pazuzu

Album: Värähtelijä

Label: 20 Buck Spin

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Oranssi Pazuzu
Värähtelijä

Three years after the revelatory Valonielu, Finnish avant-garde stalwarts Oranssi Pazuzu continue their exploration of spacey, psychedelic, and krautrock-inspired sounds within the confines of heavy metal. What they've always done so well is use black metal as a springboard towards other, less restricting experimental sounds, and that combination of trebly black metal riffs with jazz fusion freakout guitar solos, Hammond organ, and oddball time signatures makes this new album, whose title roughly translates as "resonator", a marvel from start to finish.

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Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

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TV

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

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The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

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To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.


Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09
Amazon

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

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Gallagher's work often suffers unfairly beside famous husband's Raymond Carver. The Man from Kinvara should permanently remedy this.

Many years ago—it had to be 1989—my sister and I attended a poetry reading given by Tess Gallagher at California State University, Northridge's Little Playhouse. We were students, new to California and poetry. My sister had a paperback copy of Raymond Carver's Cathedral, which we'd both read with youthful admiration. We knew vaguely that he'd died, but didn't really understand the full force of his fame or talent until we unwittingly went to see his widow read.

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