2017 has been a great year for metal. Many albums have nestled themselves angrily in my noise-loving eardrums and refused to let me forget them (sometimes by force- that’s good, by the way).
I’ll end this pointless intro and just jump straight into the ten albums I’ve loved more than any others this year.
Zeal and Ardor – Devil is Fine. What a truly awesome find this was. A one-man project where black metal evilness is effortlessly intertwined with bluesy, slave music. Sounds weird, no? How do these two very different styles work together? Well the answer is; bloody beautifully. Although this sounds nothing like it, it’s the same as Deafheaven managing to pull off shoegaze black metal; it shouldn’t work, but it does. These ten albums are in no particular order, but I’d pick this as my favourite of the year. Check it out!
Six Feet Under – Torment. I have to say, I’d always listened to Six Feet Under and although there were some great grooves and insane vocals, it all sounded a little silly. But in recent years Chris Barnes has recruited some proper top-notch musicians to growl along to. This is the pick of the last four albums or so. The groove is still there but some of the technicality, especially some of the gorgeous bass lines, just makes this one sit proudly on the pile of death metal that isn’t break-neck speed all of the time. And when you’ve got the rhythm section from Brain Drill you know it’s going to be something on the right side of Hell Yeah!
Dodecahedron – Kwintessens. The second release from these avante-garde black metallers has been a long time coming. But this is something very special indeed. The whole vibe is just evil and unsettling. You’ll be checking behind you to make sure the vocalist isn’t about to send your pathetic soul to some blackened void, as you stare open-mouthed at the jazz-inspired drumming and bass lines that sit high in the mix, just to add a bit a melody to the harsh landscape of the piece. It takes you on a journey through a barren landscape of pain and suffering. And I love it!
The Drip – The Haunting Fear of Inevitability. An intense grindcore experience with flashes of almost post-metal interludes here and there. There’s no letup. This album, even when slowing the pace down, gives you no time to collect yourself from the onslaught of carnage. Best grindcore album of the year.
Dying Fetus – Wrong One to Fuck With. A lot of death metal can sound a bit too samey, you definitely need a few decent hooks on a record to make it stand apart from the masses. Well that’s certainly what you get here. The punishing brutality of the blasts bleed seamlessly into head-nodding breakdowns that make you just want to scream ‘Fuck yeeeaaahh!’ And I did do that. Many times.
Belphegor – Totenritual. For me, the last few Belphegor albums very much fell into the ‘meh’ category. They always sounded a little too European in the riffs, like a Eurovision Blackened Death Metal Contest, if that makes any sense. When this record was recommended to me I did scrunch my nose in a derisory fashion, but after hearing it; man, was my mind changed. This is insane! I think what helps is the punishing intensity of the drumming. And the evil vibe, although that’s nothing new with these guys, is unrelenting.
Eighteen Visions – XVIII. I remember the day I first heard Obsession by this lot, it was a sad time. After the excellent Vanity, it seemed like the money had started being waved at this band, and their music went from intense hardcore with technically-written songs and Stone Temple Pilots-y hooks; to boring verse-chorus-verse-chorus anthems with plenty of singing (and not cool STP-type thing (reference got?) singing). Not that I’m averse to actual singing, but the passion seemed to have gone. Well now, they’re back (I’m intentionally neglecting to mention the album 18V) and it’s like this should have been the follow-up to Vanity. Imagine a hardcore Velvet Revolver, and in a good way. Not that this is a great album, but after what I was expecting, it’s a very very satisfying one.
Avund – Forfall. Imagine bite-sized chunks of Drudkh, served on a bed a doom metal with a hardcore punk sauce, and you’re getting pretty close. Another interesting take on black metal, this short album seems to improve with every listen. I also very much enjoy the drumming on this one.
Akercocke – Renaissance in Extremis. I am a big fan of this blackened death metal band, and when I heard they were releasing a new album after, what ten years maybe? I was a little excited to say the least. But this is much more – mature isn’t the right word – but it’s the kind of thing to describe it. Gone are the lavishly satanic lyrics and demonic howls, this has the feel of a much more prog-inspired album. The riff on the last song could have been taken straight from Opeth’s Still Life. They still sound like Akercocke but there’s definitely more to them here. For the first few spins I wasn’t all that impressed and was even a little disappointed. But don’t they say the greatest albums are those which take a while to really ‘get’?
Asira – Efference. Here’s another album that took me a few listens to really appreciate. But now I’ve heard it properly, wow! At times it’s beautiful, at others melancholy, but throughout it just has that something about it. Oh, it’s black metal, but prog-black metal. There’s going to be comparisons to Opeth and Deafheaven (the heavy bits), as well as some ‘Floyd-esque instrumental parts, but this really has got it’s own sound going on, and it’s great. Some passages on here wouldn’t sound out of place on the Roadhouse stage in the recent Twin Peaks season.
A few other albums that I’ve enjoyed this year but haven’t made it onto this prestigious list include;
Sikth – The Future in Whose Eyes? Much more enjoyable than their previous EP. Great band, well and truly back.
Full of Hell – Trumpeting Ecstasy. Another brutalising slab of slamming grindcore.
Vallenfyre – Fear Those Who Fear Him. The guitars have that Entombed/ Nails thing going on, it’s doomy groovy heaviness with a few nicely timed blast beats.
Valborg – Endstrand. I’ve heard lots of vocalists scream, but this guy sounds like he’s genuinely in pain – love it! Groovy Triptykon, if I had to describe it in two words.
Bear – /// There had to be a little Djent on the list. One of the better acts I’ve heard in recent years, there’s tasty riffs and polyrhythms aplenty.
The Great Old Ones – EOD: A Tale of Dark Legacy. Any black metal band inspired by HP Lovecraft are worth your time.
Dead Cross. I’m not the biggest fan of hardcore punk (or any punk really) but when you’ve got Mike Patton singing it and Dave Lombardo drumming it, it has to be worth checking out. And this is definitely worth it.
And now, a few no-no’s, disappointments, if you will.
311 – Mosaic. It may come as a surprise, what with all the other bands mentioned here, but I’ve really got a thing for 311. OK, their recent stuff hasn’t been up to their 90s standards, but I’d heard good things about this one. But for me, it didn’t really deliver.
Decapitated – Anticult. Now I like Chimaira, but I don’t want Decapitated to sound like them. Although objectively speaking this is a good album, it sounds too generic for this band. I know times change and I’m not angry about it (a friend of mine has been put off all of their back catalogue by this one; I’m not that sickened by it), it’s more of a ‘oh well, let’s move on’ type feeling, if you know what I mean.
Cannibal Corpse – Red Before Black. Maybe I need to hear it more, but this one hasn’t grabbed me like previous releases have. To me there’s nothing memorable about it, it’s certainly not a patch on the most excellent A Skeletal Domain. It’s not bad, but I haven’t got that excited about it.
Mastodon – Emperor of the Sand. I’m not a whiny ‘they should never have changed’, ‘they’ve sold out’ ‘Don fan, but this just sounds too polished and singy, like recent Baroness. I wish they’d shout a bit more again!!
So bring it on, 2018, you think you can top this year? Do ya? Come on then!!
Categories: Music Review