All is fine in recovery mode and it works as expected, but when systemd has full rein, it spits a dummy and won't tell me why
I have this with my Ubuntu-based mail server - it's about 12 years old and has gone through many, many version updates - mostly without a hitch (currently on 14.04 - it keeps naging me to update to the latest LTS release but I don't dare - and this started out as a physical box that, eventually, got made into a VM..).
The majority of the problems started when Ubuntu went over to systemd. Like the OP, I have to boot the vm in recovery mode (it's a VM, running under KVM) in order to get it to boot correctly - otherwise I just get a blank screen and no ssh daemon.
I have a backup mailserver vm running on FreeBSD 11 but getting my qmail-based stuff to work properly (and the various Apache websites to serve properly) is being a bit of a pain. But, sooner or later, the pain of *not* moving is going to be greater than the pain of moving and I'll be taking a few days to migrate stuff properly.
 And nothing in the binary log either - I suspect that it doesn't even get that far.