Paleowave

Year-in-Review: 2017 Metal

Just a little late to the party, but the early part of 2018 has been a busy (and productive!) time for me. All the better, because now I know which albums stand the test of time and were not mere flashes in the pan. Overall, 2017 was an outstanding year for metal in my books - easily surpassing 2016 in terms of quality, and helping me weather last year as well as this year's early storm of bustling activity. The downside was that picking only a select few albums was difficult! Hence, as opposed to last year's 15, here is a list of my twenty top records from last year, ranked in order of enjoyment (from "most enjoyable" at 20 and "incredibly-super-duper enjoyable" at 1). As always, click on the album covers for links to songs:

Honorable Mentions:

20. Chaos Moon - Eschaton Mémoire

Haunting, hellish, and chaotic, Eschaton Mémoire is by far Chaos Moon's finest hour. The album veers between frenetic, technical tremolo-picked riffs and incredibly lush, rich passages structured around evocative melodies and gut-wrenching howls. Although there are several clones, there aren't many bands that are genuinely advancing the Xasthur/Leviathan/Krohm model of depressive American black metal like Chaos Moon.

19. Usnea - Portals into Futility

Dirge-like funeral doom is hard to do without putting the listener to sleep but Usnea excel at this art form. They manage to conjure up an utterly bleak landscape and hold the listener's interest by building on sorrowful melodies alongside slabs of thick sludgy riffs.

18. The Ominous Circle - Appalling Ascension

Hearkening back to the raw, buzzing guitars and bludgeoning wall-of-riffs reminiscent of early death metal classics such as Onward to Golgotha or Osculum ObscenumThe Ominous Circle create a 'blackened' atmosphere on Appalling Ascension with an aggressive and gritty edge.

17. Impure Wilhelmina - Radiation

Impure Wilhelmina's Radiation is exceptionally catchy, rocks out when it wants to, broods, purrs, and has multiple existential crises throughout its course. This album feels like the logical successor to Katatonia's Discouraged Ones with equal parts doom metal and equal parts The Cure, without losing the charm of either.

16. Dyscarnate - With all their Might

Although #16 on my list, With All Their Might wins the competition for Best Gym Music of 2017 as well as Best Music to Break Something and/or Everything. Admittedly, I'm not a big fan of self-styled "modern death metal" but my word, there are some riffs here that would make the most kvlt of old school death metal fans nod their head in wishful appreciation.

15. Elder - Reflections of a Floating World

I thought this album would feature higher on my list, especially after my self-proclaimed adoration for 2015's Lore - but that seemed to be the problem, that there was nothing like Lore before it, but Reflections of a Floating World is very much like Lore. I am unfair of course because Elder has put out yet another incredible album that ebbs and flows with free-flowing psychedelic melodies and seamlessly marries desert rock and progressive metal.

14. Archspire - Relentless Mutation

Archspire tread that fine line of overt virtuosity and brutality that borders on the tongue-in-cheek and the finesse of writing a technical death metal song remotely memorable and groovy (like Martyr or Spawn of Possession) --- and they do so really well on Relentless Mutation! Those still disappointed that Necrophagist's fourth album never materialized ought to be satiated by this offering.

13. Unearthly Trance - Stalking the Ghost

Claustrophobic sludge/doom delivered the way only Unearthly Trance can, Stalking the Ghost is a crushing, heavy, and destructive piece of work. It is an intense and grimy listen with slab-after-slab of filthy riffs that carry forward the legacy of Morbid-Tales-era Celtic Frost into a dark, relentless, and unforgiving future. 

12. Planning for Burial - Below the House

Below the House is tough to pin down. Jon Rosenthal over at Invisible Oranges writes "Depression and depersonalization have historically set the stage for Planning for Burial’s idiosyncratic fusion of metal, slowcore, shoegaze, post-rock, and drone." I am surprised by how warm and nostalgic this album sounds despite its hardcore-tinged sound and psychotic disposition. I equate this album to the deranged heavy music doppelgänger of Arcade Fire's The Suburbs, recounting an altogether different perspective of suburban landscapes.

11. Dying Fetus - Wrong One to Fuck With

Nothing more to say about this than what the title says: do NOT mess with these battle-scarred veterans; they are at their peak performance. If you're a fan of anything even remotely close to death metal, there is no reason you will not enjoy this blisteringly fast, incredibly technical, and downright groovy album.

10. Power Trip - Nightmare Logic

These guys have come a long way since I saw them ~8 years ago at the old Emos in Austin, TX. Nightmare Logic is a catchy, catchy thrash metal album, plain and simple. Chunky guitars, neck-snapping riffs, in-your-face drumbeats, politically charged lyrics, and an "I don't care" attitude only found in pre-1995 albums make Nightmare Logic an absolute delight.

09. DVNE - Asheran

This album is an incredible journey, with a complex and elaborate approach to stoner metal songwriting. Although there are riffs aplenty for the seasoned headbanger, Dvne bring in an epic, vibrant, and theatrical atmosphere to the tried and tested formula. Although the comparisons to Elder are warranted, Asheran was a far more enjoyable (and heavier!) listen than Reflections of a Floating World.

08. Biblical - The City that Always Sleeps

This album caught me by surprise. Admittedly not (entirely) metal, The City that Always Sleeps is psychedelic rock that is progressive like a Pink Floyd album, memorable like a Blue Öyster Cult (or Ghost) album, jarring like a CAN album, and fluid like a toe album. It is immersive, relaxing, and highly intriguing. 

07. A Pregnant Light - Devotion Unlaced

I simply do not know how Damian Master is as prolific and consistent (and peculier) as he is. Even though Devotion Unlaced is not a full-length, and is an EP, the material on it, like most of his other EPs is fantastic. A Pregnant Light makes music that brings together black metal, shoegaze, indie rock, and gothic rock, in a manner that's lush yet sparse, bleak yet hopeful, and gray yet vibrant. Devotion Unlaced is as good a place to start with A Pregnant Light's catalog as any of the other albums or EPs.

06. The Night Flight Orchestra - Amber Galactic

Night Flight Orchestra is pure, unadulterated fun. If you think that a group of Swedish melodic death metal musicians getting together to play late 70's/early 80's pop-rock would be a barrel of fun - you're absolutely right. And we're talking full. on. early 80s here - think Police/Toto/Supertramp/Billy Joel - yes, this is #6 on my 2017 "metal" album list. Go check it out!

05. Toke - (Orange)

(Orange) exemplifies the less is more formula: its an incredible thing listening to a band that doesn't stray far off from the major root of stoner/sludge/doom metal - Black Sabbath - and one that simultaneously manages to be unquestionably fresh in their approach. Toke unabashedly wear their influences on their sleeve and deliver catchy, Southern-rock-tinged sludge metal that you can't help but nod your head to and listen to them plod along. (Orange) is as if Iron Monkey released an album in 2017 - oh wait they did - this one is better!

04. Night Demon - Darkness Remains

This is sheer, good ol' classic heavy metal at its very best. Of course, you could write this off as Iron Maiden worship and enjoy it just as much, but you'd miss out on all the other NWOBHM tributes lurking throughout this riff-packed album including Diamond Head, Thin Lizzy, Jag Panzer, Angel Witch, Satan, and Dio. However, Darkness Remains is much, much more than a generic NWOBHM tribute and is an impressive album in its own right with a distinctive take on dueling guitars, galloping bass riffs, soaring choruses, and triplet drum fills.

03. Chelsea Wolfe - Hiss Spun

What an ambitious effort! Singer/songwriter experimental sludge doom - who knew that could be a thing done so well? Hiss Spun twists and writhes as Chelsea Wolfe's haunting voice and brooding lyrics crawl alongside the massive wall of sound created by Ben Chisholm's guitars, static noise, and industrial glitch.

02. Unsane - Sterilize

Unsane's latest addition to their unique noise-fueled approach to metal is best chronicled by vocalist Chris Spencer on the opening song of Sterilize (in his distinct, painful yows): "Welcome back to this world of confusion." Unsane are back and show no signs of slowing down since their debut ~26 years ago! This time though, their chaotic, manic, and aggressive breed of noise metal has a characteristic wistfulness and uneasy warmth about it. Rather than portraying a menacing mood throughout its course, Sterilize details the soundtrack of the moments of clarity oscillating between insomnia and insanity - a grand accomplishment!

01-Hell.jpg

01. Hell - Hell

Oh wow, this album came out of nowhere. Hell is the soundscape of the apocalypse rendered in sludge format. Hell consists of thick, viscous, brownish riffs repeatedly drilled into your cranium without any sign of subsidence, as the drums and bass summon up an ominous and ethereal background hellscape. The word demonic is freely used and abused in metal literature, but I cannot think of a more appropriate descriptor for the vocals on this record. Hell also shows signs of unexpected sophistication where the closing tracks utilize acoustic guitars and violins to color the hellscape with even more malevolence.

Year-in-Review: 2015 Metal

The middle of February is an appropriate time to release a best-of list for the previous year in my opinion. No, seriously. The folks at AngryMetalGuy have the right idea - you need at least a month to listen to December’s output! In any case, here’s the list of my top ten metal releases in 2015, accompanied by two-sentence descriptions:

Honorable mentions: Visigoth - The Revenant King, Sumac - The Deal, Uncle Acid & The Deadbeats - The Night Creeper, Paradise Lost - The Plague Within, Intronaut - The Direction of Last ThingsTrials - This Ruined World, Khemmis - Absolution, Deafheaven - New Bermuda

10. Rivers of Nihil - Monarchy

Monarchy

Not having been on a technical death metal trip for a long time, Rivers of Nihil’s sophomore effort, Monarchy, is the perfect foray back into the field. Monarchy maintains a fine line balancing technical structures, grooviness, and songwriting skills, and is chockfull of memorable riffs and extremely talented instrumentation. 

9. Ghost - Meliora

Meliora

God damn it (Satan damn it?), I was never a Ghost (or Ghost B.C.?) fan until 2015, when I went against my better judgement to see what all the fuss was about, and inevitably got sucked into the endlessly catchy vortex of Blue Öyster Cult jams and church music choruses. Meliora is on par with the other two Ghost albums: a solid throwback album with slow-paced, groovy, downtuned rock ’n roll riffs that stick to your brain and somehow don’t give you a saccharine overdose when you come back for seconds. 

8. Tau Cross - Tau Cross

TauCross

I got turned onto Tau Cross even before I found out about its Amebix/Voivod roots by the incredibly grim album artwork. The remarkably refreshing self-titled debut delivers on all counts of a noteworthy metal album including how epic and anthemic it sounds despite its relentlessly crusty approach.

7. Horrendous - Anareta

Anareta

My word - this album took me by complete and utter surprise considering my expectations for exhilarating progressive death metal in the last few years. In a pool filled with multiple ‘old-school death metal’ tropes, Anareta delivers like nobody else, with fantastic, cohesive songwriting replete with somber, subtle melodies, and unsettling structures that are reminiscent of a much ‘doomier’ version of Atheist’s Unquestionable Presence.

6. Fluisteraars - Luwte

Fluisteraars

Though it is disappointing that no other black metal made my 2015 list (A Pregnant Light wasn’t a full length!), Dutch band FluisteraarsLuwte, takes the best parts of Drudkh, Summoning, Hate Forest, and Burzum’s naturalistic (and suicidal) tendencies and juxtaposes them with a unique, riff-driven, second-wave mentality that rivals the ferocity of any of the aforementioned bands. These guys are the European answer to the recent Cascadian black metal movement. 

5. Goatsnake - Black Age Blues

BlackAgeBlues

When I saw Goatsnake live in early 2015, on top of being able to see these legends perform, I had no idea that they were writing new material, let alone releasing a new album in the coming months! Black Age Blues is menacing, evil, folksy, bluesy, heavy as hell, and everything you could wish for in a Goatsnake album - classic entertainment right here.

4. Tribulation - The Children of the Night

Tribulation

What an inconceivable progression it has been for Tribulation from 2009’s rabid death/thrash metal homage to Entombed/Dismember, The Horror, to 2015’s goth ’n roll Children of the Night with its middle eastern melodies, atmospheric songwriting, and ethereal aura - who would’ve guessed? Though this was one of the first few new albums I heard in 2015, I have kept coming back for more, and it is always a blast - just like their live performance.

3. Satan - Atom by Atom

AtomByAtom

How were they ever going to top the heavy metal fury that was Life Sentence, which was also arguably the best return-to-form album in history? Well, here we are with Atom by Atom, an absolute stunner of a heavy metal record with ripping twin guitars, intricately complex structures, roaring solos, and some of the best bass-drum interplay I’ve heard in a while; simply stunning putting every other revival NWOBHM album to shame.

2. Royal Thunder - Crooked Doors

CrookedDoors

Having seen them live twice, Royal Thunder are fast becoming one of my favorite bands. Crooked Doors is on the natural, upward trajectory from Royal Thunder's humble beginnings, but the maturity, depth, and character of this record somehow resonates with me on a fundamental level almost as if the most infectious moments of Anathema, Opeth, and Alice in Chains were fused onto one album. Go listen to it!

1. Elder - Lore

Lore

I am unable to find flaw with this unreservedly immense record (including its absolutely gorgeous cover artwork). This is one phenomenal journey, tumultuous crescendo after crescendo that never dulls, tying together the best facets of heavy music that pulls influences from across the spectrum and adds up to an incredibly expansive, satisfying, and rewarding listen! I cannot wait to see Elder perform Lore in a live setting!