The Best (mostly metal) Albums of 2016

It’s that time of year again! That glorious time where I get to throw out my opinion out there and pretend like it matters to you. It’s time for my Best Albums Of 2016 List! Now, full disclaimer, I mostly listen to metal, and this list is almost exclusively metal. If I broadened out to include game soundtracks, film scores, or even pop records, rest assured it would change dramatically. But metal is what I’m good at and metal is what I love, so metal is what you’re getting.

Let’s start with the Honorable Mention Albums, in no particular order:

Meshuggah – The Violent Sleep of Reason: An amazing record, but, frankly, not different enough from previous releases to warrant inclusion on the list.
Nails – You Will Never Be One Of Us: A great record, but the hype machine, combined with the mean-spirited antics of the band definitely impacted my impressions on the record.
Violet Cold – Magic Night: A solid showing from Violet Cold, but I felt like other bands kind of did what they were doing better.
Vektor – Terminal Redux : A solid effort from a great band, but Vektor has never really been my style and so I don’t see myself really getting much more mileage out of this record.
Gojira – Magma: Like Meshuggah’s outing, it’s a solid record with no real fault except for not being distinct enough from it’s sibling albums.

10. Alcest – Kodama (Prophecy Productions)

I’m a sucker for concept albums. When I heard Kodama, I knew it was going to wind up on this list somewhere. Kodama is directly inspired by legendary filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki’s Princess Mononoke. It’s dark and brooding, and brimming with emotion. It’s not quite as impactful as I found Les Voyages de L’Ame, but it’s an amazing and wonderful album in it’s own right, that really encapsulates the black-metal-meets-indie-rock-meets-shoegaze sound that they helped popularize.

9.Nine Inch Nails – Not The Actual Events (The Null Corporation)

I don’t care about the opinion that this is an EP and not a full length album. It rips. It’s only the second EP that the band has ever released, and everyone considers Broken to be a NIN classic, so why can’t this be? This one is unique: It’s the first time Trent has another bandmate. Atticus Ross now shares the spotlight and NIN is officially a two-piece band. It’s a short twenty-minute EP with very little frills. It’s a bit more The Fragile than The Slip and I’m more than okay with that.

8. Fleshgod Apocalpyse – KING (Nuclear Blast)

If you forgot that KING released this year, I would forgive you. The Italian titans of symphonic death metal released the first single, The Fool, on Jan 1st 2016 and then dropped the full length KING in February. It’s been out for a while now, and lots of other great albums have come into focus since. On this album, I think Fleshgod finally gets the production perfectly on point. There’s a finely tuned balance between the symphonies backing the band and the pounding death metal blastbeats. There is no reason for fans of either aspect of the band to feel like they have been forgotten about.

7. Harakiri For The Sky – III, Trauma (Art of Propaganda)

Harakiri For The Sky, at times, comes across like a lo-fi Darkest Hour, or Alcest if they took form from more traditional metal bands. I only relatively recently discovered them, and had I spent more time with this album I have no doubt that this album would be in the top 5 or even higher. There’s just so much melody buried in the music and it makes repeated listens all the more rewarding. My only complaint with it is that a few of the songs seem to drag a bit longer than necessary. I’m not entirely convinced, however, that I want to change that.

6. The Dillinger Escape Plan – Dissociation (Party Smasher)

The most bittersweet album I’ve ever listened to. The Dillinger Escape Plan is one of those bands that appeared to be immortal. They could suffer lineup change after lineup change. Death-defying injuries didn’t seem to faze them or throw them off their groove. Yet here it is: Their swansong. Like everything they’ve ever written, it’s bombastic. Full of fire, and heavy grooves, but with the same mind-twister riffs that they’ve had since Calculating Infinity. This is a band that will stay with me until the end. I only wish that they would stay too.

5. Car Bomb – Meta (Self-Released)

One would have to be daring to write an album that begins with a song titled ‘From The Dust Of This Planet’ and ends with one called ‘Infinite Sun’. Car Bomb can only be described as inaccessible and impenetrable. The music is meant to be enjoyed as much as it is meant to be solved. ‘Nonagon’ and other similar tracks are more like puzzleboxes of rhythmic patterns than contemporary metal songs. Nonetheless, the songcraft is waiting to be explored, and fantastic melodic leads are buried in the staccato riffs. With Meta‘s release, the comparisons to their legendary peers in bands like Meshuggah and Gojira are stronger than ever. And with The Dillinger Escape Plan soon to leave us, Car Bomb may become the new standard bearers for the mathcore genre.

4. Every Time I Die – Low Teens (Epitaph)

The difference between being cryptic and being ridiculous is that to be cryptic requires offering a cipher. And Low Teens has several ciphers with which to decrypt the riddles that are Keith Buckley’s lyrics. His struggle with alcoholism, fear of the “what-if”s around his wife and her pregnancy complications, his reflections and musings on the early days of the band, and millions of tiny fragments of his life colliding together are all represented. It clocks in at nearly an hour long, making it a marathon as far as punk and metalcore albums go. The album itself seems somewhat self-aware of its own indulgences as Keith croons, “I want oblivion all of the time.” Low Teens bears all the hallmarks of being yet another masterwork from Every Time I Die. This is a band that continues to explore the territory of hardcore and metalcore without ever a misstep.

3. Cult Of Luna & Julie Christmas – Mariner (Indie)

Julie Christmas, the former vocalist of Made Out Of Babies, is more just than a guest; she is a primary force on this album, appearing on all but one of the five tracks. Her voice morphs between her trademark child-like whispers and sultry cleans, all the way to piercing shrieks and back again. It’s no easy feat, but she pulls it off while maintaining a sneer that you can almost envision. Mariner continues the thematic tradition of Cult Of Luna’s previous albums. Somewhere Along The Highway explored an organic and rural aesthetic, while Vertikal paid homage to the hyper-mechanical and urban themes of the movie Metropolis. Mariner continues this tradition and explores outer space, drawing textural inspiration directly from 2001: A Space Odyssey. There’s something beautiful about the way that these albums unfold and unravel over the course of an hour. Mariner is no exception.

2. Trap Them – Crown Feral (Prosthetic)

I feel like Trap Them’s effort went sorely unappreciated by the music community in 2016. Ryan McKenney is fierce, barking as frantically as ever. He promises to “bring the fucking battering ram,” and delivers, with the band engaging in a full-on assault that doesn’t let up for just over a half hour. It’s a bit difficult to talk much about this album: If you enjoy Trap Them, you know what you’re getting, and you’re getting it in spades. Far less of the frills found on their previous record, Blissfucker, are present. There are no seven minute slow-burners like ‘Savage Climbers’ here. If you don’t know Trap Them, well…expect them to bring the fucking battering ram. The production is dense, yet still melodic, despite the violence. It’s a non-stop onslaught, and one of the few albums with such ferocity that could ever hope to live up to the name Crown Feral.

1. Oathbreaker – Rheia (Deathwish)

I’m a fan of the post-Deafheaven metal scene. But it’s hard to keep up with the deluge of “blackened” bands ever since instant classics like Deafheaven’s Roads To Judah and Liturgy’s Aesthethica were released at the beginning of the decade. There’s a new one every week. But Oathbreaker truly stand out from the crowd with Rheia. It opens slow and sepulchral with the spoken word of Caro Tanghe in ’10:56.’ Her acapella aria is soon set against what can only be described as the sound of an oncoming train as the band roars to life just before ‘Second Son Of R.’ begins. The music evolves, and for just over an hour, the listener is carried between every musical extreme imaginable, guided as much by the meandering exploration of the guitars as it is by the howling vocals of Tanghe. It works, and it’s beautiful. Even at its most reserved moments, where a simple acoustic guitar is playing, there are undercurrents flowing in the background. Rheia is an album that rewards repeated listens, and it’s for that quality that I listened to this album regularly for nearly weeks on end following its release.


A Glance At Audio Sprites In 1,000 Words Or Less!

In working on a current project, the Twitter-fueled HTML5 -powered game Squirrel Sqript (Which is almost ready to launch, by the way!), I’ve learned a lot about cross-functionality. I acted as a programmer on this team, and as all programmers must do, I had to overcome certain unique problems presented by the platform and the project. Because the game is HTML5, our team encountered an issue in that browser-based games (particularly mobile browser-based games, and especially mobile browser based games) don’t necessarily support audio in the way you want them to. And no single codec is accepted by every browser. AND the performance hits are dramatic for even some of the simplest of audio related functions. AND the list of quirks goes on. It’s maddening! Not even sites specifically built for audio like SoundCloud offer great usability on mobile because putting your phone to sleep not only kills playback, but also the player itself in many instances on awake, forcing a refresh of the entire page. The logic is that most mobile users pay for data per gigabyte/kilobyte, and overage gets expensive, so the browser will take any chance it gets to kill your audio. That’s where audio sprites come in.

Continue reading “A Glance At Audio Sprites In 1,000 Words Or Less!”

MAX/MSP: Delay Lines (A Beginners Tutorial)

Welcome to a quick overview of creating a Max/MSP patch. This is my very first tutorial on Max so it’s going to be incredibly simple. Any other Max Patches I create will likely show off something a little more complex, so experienced users might not find too much here for them.

Max/MSP (M.S.P. standing for Max Signal Processing) is an incredibly cool program developed by Cycling ’74, created by Miller S. Puckette (another M.S.P.!). It is largely considered to be a much more user-friendly cousin to Pure Data (“Pd”) , which Puckette also designed. Since I purchased it a month ago, Max 6 has quickly become one of my favorite toys, and is incredibly fun to design audio with. It is a Digital Signal Processing application, which means that it can process audio in real time. We’re going to take a quick look at Max to get a glimpse at it’s capabilities and create a short, extremely simple delay effect. To avoid repeatedly explaining anything, when I say to create an object, just hit “N” on the keyboard and type in the name of the object that I write in a quotes.

To start, create an “ezdac” object to create an output for your signal (a “dac” is a Digital-to-Audio Converter – a speaker(!) – and its inverse is the “adc”, the Analogue-to-Digital Converter – a microphone(!). You can use just a regular “dac” as well, but the ezdac offers a graphical interface). The interface of the ezdac is pretty simple. Click it to turn the audio engine on or off. The next step is to actually create the signal, so let’s create a new object called “cycle ~ 220”. “cycle” is a keyword to generate a sine wave. It is an oscillator. The tilde (“~”) is a signifier that the object deals with audio and not data – all audio-related objects end with a tilde. The 220 is an argument for the “cycle” keyword that specifies 220 cycles per second (a wave with a frequency of 220 hertz). If you were to plug this object into the ez-dac, you can hear – at your speakers maximum volume – a pure sine wave of 220 hz. To give yourself some control, create a “gain~” object and connect it between your ezdac and oscillator (make sure to connect all channels of the dac to the gain slider.

Now that we have something playing a tone, we’re almost ready to create a delay line, but because we have a single tone playing, any delay is going to go unnoticed, so let’s create a number box (hint! hit I on the keyboard to create a number (integer!) box!) and plug it into the “cycle~” object’s top inlet. The number box will alter the argument of the oscillator, so whatever number you place into the number box will replace the “220” in the oscillator object. The trick here is that you can click and drag on the number box and hear the delay line as your oscillator changes. It looks like this:

Basic Max 6 Oscillator
Basic Max 6 Oscillator. The 218 is currently replacing the original argument of 220.

Now to start the delay line.

Create a “tapin~ 1000” object. The “tapin” creates a memory space for the last X amount of milliseconds of audio. In this case, we’re getting the last 1,000 milliseconds (1 second) of delay. Break the link from your “cycle~” object to your “gain~” object, and instead connect “cycle~” to your fancy new “tapin~” object. Now create a “tapout~ 50” object, and connect the out of “tapin~” to it’s input, and “tapout~ 50″‘s out to “gain~” input. The argument of 50 in the “tapout~” object is the actual delay being generated. You’ll notice that the connection between “tapin~” and “tapout~” is a data connection and not an audio one – this is no accident! Because “tapin~” is actually storing 1,000 milliseconds of audio, you can actually use “tapout~” to create several delay lines using one source. So adding arguments (for example “tapout~ 50 200 500”) might result in an interesting delay pattern. You’ll just have to experiment to find out!

One last touch: Multiplying signals is effectively the same as a mixing two signals together on an audio console. So if you multiply two signals, you just get both signals in one audio “line” (for lack of a better term). So, if you were to “mix” back in the delay, you could effectively turn your delay into a reverb! To do this, simply multiply your signal coming out of your delay and mix it back in before the delay again. Just create a multiplication object that will return 75% of the output back to the input. Create an object “*~ 0.75” and connect the out of “tapout” to its’ input, and the multiplication objects output to the input of “tapin” (If you were to create this as a variable range from 0-100%, it would be the same as a feedback knob on a delay pedal. I’ll leave that for you to figure out though!)

The completed patch. I used 85% for my return line, and the “0” in the “Delay Line” can replace the tapout~ argument of 50, in order to modulate the delay time.

If you desire, you can copy this paste on pastebin to your clipboard and open it in Max 6 using the file>new from clipboard command, to see exactly what I’ve created. Additionally, I would like to credit Joel Rich for the original tutorial I followed to create this patch when I first began using Max. You can find that video here.