Top Albums ov 2017 w/ Spear, Beargod, and Dr K!
Some death, some slamz, some power, some rap, some caw, some black, some prog, noise and a whole lotta tech!
SpearEmpirine – Eld
Independent | Review/Stream
Empirine had a productive year, putting out two EP’s in the span of eight months. While Revenant brought solid riffing and atmospherics to the table, Eld saw the duo fully embracing their atmospheric side for their most cohesive, powerful album yet. It’s bittersweet without being sappy, due in no small part to the engaging guitar and drum work. The vocoded singing actually works really well with the music, adding to the dreamlike quality set by the keys and thick guitar chords. Few things gave me the same emotional release as Eld, which was very welcome at the end of a stressful year.
I listened to In Forgotten Sleep a lot in the month following its release; enough so that I forced myself to put it down for awhile, lest I start hating it. Thankfully, I got over that, because this album is amazing. Returning to it recently, I know why it works so well; beyond just being loaded with awesome riffs and songwriting, this is a prime example of a transformative album. The ebb and flow of each song, with their soaring power metal vocals, monstrous doom riffs, and touches of black metal and folk, takes you on a wild journey not only from song to song, but over the course of the album. It feels like a story unfolding on a musical level, and it does it while giving each song its own clearly defined identity. Lör is a band that does everything, and they do it very well.
While I appreciate a pointed, focused album as much as anyone, sometimes you need something that just throws out the notion of theme and brings a ton of variety to the table. That is exactly what Without Waves did with Lunar, and it’s all the better for it. They hit everything from brutal death to noodly prog to soft-spoken post-metal, and they do it all really well; check out “Victorian Punishment” to hear all of that in one song. While the uneven style might be a turnoff for some, I found it to be consistently engaging and went back for a number of repeat listens. It’s good fun if you’re in the mood for a little bit of everything.
This album is like Spawn of Possession on crack. It’s insanely fast and intricate, with winding, twisting melodies that sound like nothing else in the game right now. Every time I come back to it, I find something new; a harmony that stands out, counterpoint I didn’t notice before, some weird way a scale is approached that makes the familiar sound alien. This is some of the techest death to ever tech a death, and it’s been part of my regular rotation for the past eight months.
For a concept album about a research team coming down with the space crazies and launching themselves into the sun, Solar Cremation is surprisingly pretty. It also riffs really fucking hard and has fantastic production to boot. The band draws on elements of post metal and shoegaze to supplement their technical wizardry. Combined with the album’s warm sound and dynamic vocal delivery, this is one of the most heartfelt prog death albums I’ve heard all year.
Is there anything I can say about this album that hasn’t already been said more eloquently by better writers at this point? Scrimm and company put out just a beast of debut, and it’s probably the OSDM album I came back to the most. If you haven’t listened to it yet, then shame on you.
Blindfolded and Led to the Woods are ostensibly a brutal death metal band, but they take every genre convention and turn it on its head. Modern Adoxography is as heavy and discordant as one would expect, but entirely unpredictable in basically every other way. A lot more thought (and effort, for that matter) was put into the songwriting than is the standard for BDM, and it makes a world of difference in terms of quality. It’s violent, sludgy, and intelligent, and it put pretty much every other brutal death metal release this year to shame as far as I’m concerned.
This album. Oh man, this album. Seekers brought the riffs like nobody’s business; it’s technical without being overly showy and progressive without being conceited. It’s dark but palatable, with a ton of variety in the songwriting and some excellent performances. And if you tell me that the guitar solo in “Apoptosis” isn’t the best you’ve heard all year, you’re a liar. Get on this right away if you haven’t given it a shot yet.
I’m right there with Leif on this one; In Passing Ascension blew me away repeatedly with its capacity to be both horrifying and enthralling. This is an album that is all at once catchy and incredibly uncomfortable. Those microtone bends throughout each song make my skin crawl, and the vocals drip with malice. It’s hideous, and that’s exactly why I keep coming back to it.
I had an inkling this would show up on my year-end list from the moment I heard it back in February, and it doesn’t surprise me in the least that it’s held up this long. Urraca is primal and unrelenting, and Colin Marston’s glorious production ensures that each note leaves maximum impact. It’s dissonant death metal pared down into a more focused package, more easily consumed if you’re not into the meandering of a lot of their peers. For me, dissonance reigned supreme in 2017, and Sunless did it the best.
White Death – White Death
Calling something the best black metal record of the year would likely arouse expectations of spazzy, discordant progsterpiece here in the Toilet. Though that kind of music definitely has a place in my heart, I’m far more likely to gravitate album’s that can better be condensed to “black metal” without all the extra toppings. White Death is very much delivered just that, their traditionalist ways as much, or more, an intent than means to an end. But(t) fuck me if this ain’t an album filled to the brim with immediate, memorable hooks, riffs and melodies for days. The un-mechanistic way to execute tempo changes, lack of constant blasting and small fills make the drumming feel so much more alive than is often the standard and with the monochromatic intensity of Vritrahn’s performance elevate an already marvelous album to one of the best back metal records/debuts in years.
Aegrus – Thy Numinous Darkness
Another excellent black metal record. Aegrus have quickly become one of my favourite bm bands, and aren’t appearing on an EOTY list for the first time. Their fast, sinister and melodic brand of somewhat Behexin-ish music remains rather diverse for such an constricted style and Thy Numinous Darkness is, I think, their best album as whole, even though it may not hold their best individual song – or be quite as notably variant as DFTD. One of the very few albums I’ve pre-ordered in ages and I’ve been jamming it almost non-stop ever since.
Fin – Arrows of A Dying Age
I did have some doubts as to whether AoaDA could hold up to my high expectations, and initially didn’t love it quite as much as Furrows… But as it often does, taking your head out of your ass, helps. The tone and timbre still remind more of Antichrist Kramer’s and BlackGoat’s work than those of the band’s professed inspirations, but they’re constantly moving towards a sound even more unique. The more shifting tempos and elfin riffs made for a record that feels better with each play – and occasionally features glimmers of, we’ll call it wild west, something I wouldn’t mind hearing more of in the future.
Kawir – Exilasmos
Iron Bonehead Productions
Reckon I wasn’t the only one Kawir surprised by putting out a new album so fast, and taking a sharp turn with it. The folk-instruments are largely gone and the now full-time keyboards are more an enhancement than something to dominate or present individual motifs of it’s own. Yet the scent of their previous few remains strong in the melodies leading the songs. The sound is definitely Hellenic, definitely Kawir and definitely awesome – I even gave it a perfect score, which I believe must’ve been a first.
Tähtiportti – Superdepressio
How do you make a good album from a handful of songs, each built on a monotone, repetitive beat ‘neath Sami Hynninen’s spoken-word weirdness? You make every beat a howl from the depths of psychosis. You build tension so tight, the songs seem to diminish and grow, flailing back and forth even when no actual movement occurs. I don’t know if I would have given this album much of a chance if I wasn’t already in love with their previous output. But hey, I do, and I did, and Superdepressio is pushing buttons I didn’t know I had installed. No point in trying to explain, it has to be experienced.
Délétéré – Per Aspera Ad Pestilentiam
Every vague promise given by their full-length, was redeemed here. Torturous, medieval black metal from Canada, where each of the three shows. In my mind it compared to, though not competed with, Ungfell’s latest – though less folkish. I thought long whether to put here, and though for the longest of times I wanted it to be Ungfell with it’s fluttering, Peste Noire-like riffs. But I have come to spend more time with Deletere. It’s short length, constantly flowing guitar-work, dark and vibrant hypnoticism, balanced sound and decisively conceptual direction – almost as if it was a suite, only the band was trying to not revisit the same themes, finally drew the longer straw.
Shade Empire– Poetry of The Ill-Minded
Melding melodic black and death metal with plenty of symphonic influences and a twist of prog, not entirely unlike Jimmy’s recent jackpot with Omega Point. Cleverly built around a few “key tracks” hooks, the ones in between more atmospheric and less immediate. And it makes good use of that criminally underrated instrument (among metal circles, that only now seem to have woken up to woodwinds), the trumpet.
Nokturnal Mortum – Verity
How do you follow up an all-time top 3 album? You don’t. And Verity doesn’t seem to try either. Sure, it’s predecessor is the one it’s most resembles, by virtue of style. A sinister, emotionally raw and introspective folk-black record, where the word “black” hasn’t been given great consideration. Almost ironic, considering this is one of the darkest Nokturnal Mortum has produced. It’s not a difficult record because of complexity or otherwise challenging nature of the music. It’s difficult because it’s almost un-graspable. An album where no single motif can be picked up for examination, unless you’re willing to examine to ensemble. Only the lonely, hook-laden “Lira” offers some solace in the form of immediacy – but once it had sucked me in, I haven’t wanted to stop playing it a few times a week.
Red Moon Architect– Return of The Black Butterflies
Hasn’t been a very good doom year for me. Too many what-if’s maybe’s & might-have-beens. Too many potentially good albums that I was reluctant to spend time with. Too many older records I rather picked up. One of the few that stood apart, for all year long, no less, was RMA’s third. It seems too scarcely melodic and reliant on the atmosphere and tension to sit squarely where the-most-regular-comparison, Swallow The Sun, does – but doesn’t stand down for long enough to be comfortably placed in funeral doom either. “Nothing particularly new, but a corner of their own” – sounds like the perfect blend for me. The vibrant songwriting and dueling vovals ensure a dynamically interesting performance without being too heavy-handed about it.
Listen to: ‘Return of The Black Butterflies‘
Xanthochroid – Of Erthe And Axen: Act 1
Erthe And Axen Records
Spending its first song, introducing the Forest Keeper, painting pictures of landscapes, of mountains and forest, of agony and deceit. And as its bombast reaches a climactic moment, it grows quiet – allowing a short, intimate acoustic song to grow from beneath its branching arms. The entwining vocals of Ali and Sam Meador placed against a more stripped down background place a different focus on the care and intricacy of the album’s mix – how well each element finds its place without conflicting. And finally, “To Higher Climes Where Few Might Stand” brings together the metal and the orchestral sides, as the guitars spurt short tremolos and arpeggios, the flutes and strings building atop them, the warm vocal performance, not without a mournsome note, the choral effect and the growls fighting for room to live. The besetting sin of so many symphonic metal acts is the lack of interesting, or worthwhile ‘metal’ moments in their music, but here the guitars never forget to riff. Though no song seems solely focused on metal, the moments are memorable and noteworthy, carrying and constructing the compositions, but also embellishing them.” I wish I could make myself experience this as an individual record and not the first part of a double album though.
10. Fleurety – The White Death
I never seem to tire of the adventurous, avant-garde side of the black metal scene. There’s something about off-kilter rhythms, electronic influences, and creepy lyrics leading into periodic explosions of riffage that I find particularly satisfying. Consequently, I loved this utterly weird album from one of the oddest acts in the history of the Norwegian scene – the duo’s first full-length in 17 years. Contributions from bassist/vocalist Czral-Michael Eide (of Virus and Aura Noir fame) and singer Linn Nystadnes add intriguing dynamics to the proceedings as the guitars and synths undulate through a series of genre and mind-bending compositions.
Listen to – ‘Lament Of The Optimist‘
The front ranks of American black metal have now long been claimed by bands who are endlessly fascinated by the majesty of nature and inject a romantic lyricism into their assault on the senses. Woe takes many cues from that larger movement, yet stands out by prioritizing an overpowering aggression, fueled by palpable rage over social injustice and the ravages of war. Backed by a lineup of great players – like Krallice’s Lev Weinstein on the drums -guitarist/vocalist/songwriter Chris Grigg puts all of the implements in the USBM black metal playbook to work with forceful direction and crusty vitriol.
Look, as far as I’m concerned, there are two kinds of music fans in this crazy, mixed-up world of ours. There are people who think a 17-minute prog/doom metal composition prominently featuring woodwind instruments alongside a combination of ethereal melodic vocals and black metal shrieks sounds friggin’ awesome. Then, there are philistines with whom I do not care to associate. This is one of those records that sets out to take the listener on an immersive journey across the high seas, occasionally encountering a becalmed area of respite but also hitting some downright heavy squalls.
The first three Integrity albums are unquestionable classics, milestones of metallic hardcore that played a crucial role in shaping the sound of heavy music for decades to come. In the years since, frontman/professional misanthrope Dwid Hellion has cycled through countless musicians in the band’s ranks, his seemingly inexhaustible rage the one constant as his albums took a series of left turns. The results have always been worth a listen, but none of it struck me as essential until this record, his first full-length collaboration with former Pulling Teeth guitarist and A389 Records owner Domenic Romeo. The outcome is an album full of anthemic metalcore and an endless stream of badass guitar leads with occasional breaks for stretches of eerie menace.
6. Vince Staples – Big Fish Theory
Def Jam Recordings
Like a lot of people, I became a fan of the California-based rapper Vince Staples in 2015, with his excellent debut album Summertime ’06. His second full-length takes his distinctive style a step further, showcasing his technical skills and caustic wit against a backdrop of inventive, yet danceable, beats. Several producers contributed to the album, but Staples marshals their varied sounds into cohesive whole that hits an early high point with the banger title track and then follows an affecting arc that finally culminates with “Rain Come Down.”
5. Grave Pleasures – Motherblood
After Finnish post-punkers Beastmilk reconstituted themselves as Grave Pleasures, the band went on to release 2015’s Dreamcrash. That album left a lot of people who enjoyed the previous incarnation a bit disappointed by the way the band de-emphasized its guitar riffs and fascinating soundscapes in favor of a strong focus on Mat McNerney’s vocals. Since I love those vocals, I didn’t mind too much, but nonetheless was glad to discover that Motherblood represented a significant step up in terms of keeping things engaging on the instrumental side. The combination of infectious hooks with McNerney’s gallows humor and apocalyptic fixation makes for an album that is simultaneously a stylistic throwback and perfectly of its own anxiety-laden historical moment.
Listen to – ‘Infatuation Overkill‘
4. Couch Slut – Contempt
With their sophomore album, Couch Slut solidified their claim as one of the best young acts around to seize the AmRep mantle and put their own mark the noisy results. The unrelenting venom and bleak lyrics of singer Megan Osztrosits remain a focal point, but the rest of the band ups their game with brutal compositions and arrangements that periodically move well into black metal territory. The results feel like a seething, disgusting mess in the paradoxical way that’s only possible when a band is in full command of its songwriting and overall aesthetic.
3. Oxbow – Thin Black Duke
Hydra Head Records
Oxbow have gone many strange and dismal places in their career, but their first full-length record in 10 years distinguishes itself through its bizarre sheen of accessibility. The use of brass and strings at times makes Thin Black Duke seem more like the sort of arty pop that could come from its late namesake than the confrontational avant-garde noise rock the band is known for. However, the same weird, world-weary and unreasoningly pissed off heart still beats within and makes itself known through guitarist Niko Wenner’s mastery of unsettling dissonance and vocalist Eugene S. Robinson’s poetry of alienation.
This full-length debut is packed with politically engaged, folk-infused black metal anthems that vault Dawn Ray’d to the upper echelons of their chosen style. Plenty of bands have explored the intersection between black metal and crust, but these Liverpudlians fully absorb their anarchist leanings into compositions that elevate the usual tremolo picking and blast beats into a revolutionary statement. Frontman Simon B.’s interjections of violin and the occasional heartfelt melodic vocal ensure the songs connect on both emotional and ideological levels. It’s a combination that brings Panopticon to mind at times, but with a more direct, visceral delivery and a definitively European inflection to both the sounds and the politics. This is the kind of album that makes you excited to watch a band’s career play out over the years to come.
25 years into the eccentric career that’s seen them go from leading voices in the Norwegian black metal scene to avant-garde trip-hop experimentalists, Ulver finally went full Depeche Mode on this record. The result is a powerful collection of new wave/synthpop songs that are immaculately written, performed, and recorded. While the sounds are more immediate and catchy than ever before, Krystoffer Rygg and company also keep the essential oddity of Ulver front and center with historically allusive lyrics and cathartic moments like the freakout that concludes the standout track “Rolling Stone.” Rygg’s fascination with horrific resonances over time and their mythic implications only add to the impact of his affecting melodies by inviting a deeper level of engagement than your average collection of new wave-inspired tunes.