I tried to narrow my favourite albums down to 5, but even managing 10 was a bit hard, so I made an extended list this year. I've done reviews of all of these before, so here I'll only shortly comment on why I think these particular albums stand out above the rest that I've listened to in 2016. As always, the list is heavily subjective (almost as much as the soon-to-come Top 40 of 2016).
10. Novembre - Ursa
The most important discovery of the year was certainly my newfound love for doom metal, of which this is a slightly special example. The progressive arrangement probably just makes it weirder for most casual listeners of metal, but I think it makes it highly interesting.
9. Fleshgod Apocalypse - King
This is probably my favourite Fleshgod Apocalypse album to date. It's grandiose and oppressive, both in lyrical material and in instrumentalisation. I feel like their usual musical style is especially well-fitted for a concept album with this particular theme. The melodrama and the fanciness of the symphonic elements is the icing on the cake.
8. Khemmis - Hunted
A more traditionally heavy doom metal record, it's slow and churning and engaging. The clean vocals are surprisingly - clean, in emotion as well. There is a crazy amount of memorable riffs and just otherwise excellent guitar work on this album, so just for that alone it's worth to check it out, but that paired with the mood it produces is what elevates it.
7. Saor - Guardians
Speaking of mood - Guradians is definitely the most heavily atmospheric album on my year-end list. Not that the band wasn't always a master of that, but this newest release is the best so far, and the best so far is amazing. It relies on a few themes and variations, but even when repeating them minutes on end it manages to build in such a way that it never gets boring and never lets you out of the immersion it creates.
6. Trees of Eternity - Hour of the Nightingale
The third doom record on this list, this time of the gothic rock way. This album doesn't offer much variety in the songs or the lyrical themes, no progression to speak of, yet if you like soul-crushingly sad music, it is very hard to forget this record. For me, it was impossible
5. Be'lakor - Vessels
I adore this album. For most things, it's a standard Be'lakor record. But for long I've wondered if metal, especially the moody sort of melodic death is something that inherently evokes the feeling of cold, of solitary winters, of freezing decay. The answer is this album. Made by people from the land down under, it has that same feeling of looming tragedy, but in a way that is more reminiscent of forests dying in fires and the vastness of space.
4. Katatonia - The Fall of Hearts
A reprise from all that metal, it's sad, but it's not the sort of fantastical sadness one's used to with metal; it's almost prosaic, quotidian. It's not death, it's growing apart from people, it's having to give up on dreams, it's moments gone by. It envelops you in a soft, thick blanket of mild misery, and doesn't really promise you the heights of poetic tragedy, but somehow that's fine, even good. There are some heavier elements, relying more on interesting guitars, and softer parts where the vocals carry more of the melody, but it's all put together excellently.
3. Thrawsunblat - Metachthonia
There's an overwhelming atmosphere and a richness of sounds that made me love this album despite the questionable production. Besides, I think the arch of the whole thing is very well-thought out, and the progression and scope of the story within adds a tremendous extra layer of awesomeness. It's just six songs long, but those are perfectly put together, reaching the heights of the album at the last part of the third song. Dead of Winter is easily my favourite song of the year, but there are amazing moments in all the other songs as well.
2. Dark Tranquillity - Atoma
There's no point denying that I looked forward to this album a lot. I wasn't that impressed with DT albums lately, but as I wasn't as unimpressed as I was (am, as most people) with In Flames, I held out hope that one day they'd recapture something that I loved so much about them. And recapture they did! They sound like modern.era DT, but there's more of holy trinity-era (Damage Done, Character, Fiction) music here, and I think the blend turned out perfectly.
1. Insomnium - Winter's Gate
Insomnium is the band that have never disappointed me. I love every album of theirs, from the heavier beginnings to the more commercial Shadows of the Dying Sun, which is still one of my favourite albums of all time, despite all its objective failings. But this one is such a huge accomplishment - a concept album which actually is just a single 40-minute song, expertly crafted and beautifully written. It truly transports the listener to where the story takes place, even without giving much thought to the lyrics - which themselves are not to be ignored either. It could be my favouritism of the band, but this time I really think that they genuinely deserve the number one spot.