(We present Austin Weber’s list of 20 favorite releases from 2017, which include excerpts from his reviews both here and at Metal Injection.)
While I usually do very long year-end feature focusing almost solely on obscure music for NCS each December since 2012, our overlord Islander was in need of some holiday relief so we’re sticking to a mainly Top 20-ish format this year to ease the burden he graciously undertakes of working on all our lists for publication.
I don’t really think of my year-end favorites in a ranked-number-focused way, so the order of the ranking below is fairly irrelevant, just as a heads-up. Although a Top 20 constraint means I can only list a small fraction of my 2017 favorites, I tried to balance this list by covering a number of my top favorites from this year that didn’t get as much attention and will hopefully be new to some of you. So my goal here with a capped limit of 20 was to pick the 20 releases I felt stood out most as releases I know for sure I’ll come back to a lot after the current year ends. I also urge you to check out the hyperlinked Honorable Mentions I’ve included below the Top 20 to find more killer music worth checking out.
20. Black Harvest – Attrition
“The group have a multi-faceted take on death metal that defies easy categorization, through a unique blend of black metal influences conjoined with a death metal sound that draws from melodic death metal, progressive death metal, and a dash of technical death metal in a sort of Gorguts vein. Kishor has summed it up in a tidier way: “Attrition weaves melodic, progressive, and dissonant strains of death and black metal together with acoustic guitars and haunting choral vocals to portray a search for clarity in the depths of conflict, loss, and isolation.”
19. Felix Martin – Mechanical Nations
“Felix Martin is one of today’s most innovative and impressive guitarists. I’ve been covering his releases here at NCS for several years now. While some might take away the wrong impression that his unique instruments (ranging from 14-string to 16-string guitars custom-built to provide two separate fretboards fused together as single guitars) and his proclivity for mind-boggling, two-handed tapping, with a hand on two different fretboards at the same time, is a gimmick, a full listen to any of his releases shows how talented, beautiful, and creative his music truly is.”
“Mechanical Nations is an album that’s both light and beautiful, while also being heavy enough to headbang to frequently, and quite experimental to boot. To these ears, Mechanical Nations is a top-tier instrumental metal effort that stands head and shoulders above the vast majority of their instru-metal peers. If you haven’t checked this out yet, I strongly suggest that you give it a shot.”
18. Psudoku – Deep Space Psudokument
“For those curious as to what ’70s prog keyboard-influenced technical grindcore spliced with mathcore sounds like, get ready to freak out and possibly also laugh as well upon hitting play. The balance between madness and brilliance has been achieved yet again on Deep Space Psudokument, and the world is all the better for what Psudoku bring to life with their zany grindcore, which is actually weaponized raw insanity.”
17. John Frum – A Stirring In The Noos
“John Frum have constructed an eclectic, manic, and adventurous album on A Stirring In The Noos. It’s certainly one of the strongest debut albums from a death metal band that I’ve heard in some time. The band’s greatest strength lies in their ability to write songs that flow from idea to idea and from various musical styles to other styles like an endless fountain. At times, it does feel like some songs meander and go on too long, but I give the band a lot of credit for their willingness to experiment.”
16. Sunless – Urraca
“If you’re new to the band, Sunless plays a particularly dissonance-focused and Gorguts-influenced style of tech-death, which is becoming more prevalent and ‘overdone’ in the eyes of some. A feeling I can understand, though there will always be a few who do it far better than others, and Sunless definitely falls in that smaller camp. On Urraca, they deliver an experience equal parts blistering, doom-enveloped, and sublimely Deathspell Omega-ish black metal inflected at the same time. Overall, Urraca reminds me of both Baring Teeth and Imperial Triumphant, but crossbred together into one bizarre forward-thinking force. Those comparisons, if you didn’t guess, are meant as a high compliment.”
15. The Last Of Lucy – Ashvattha
“It’s difficult to try to compare the music on Ashvattha to anything else out there; the group’s spastic-meets-multi-faceted approach to mixing technical death metal with mathcore, grind, a lot of heavy groove element to the music, ambient electronic layers, and lots of killer saxophone playing throughout the album is a one-of-a-kind experience. Combine all that together and shake chaotically and you have a brilliantly schizophrenic sounding album in Ashvattha.”
14. Ingurgitating Oblivion – Vision Wallows In Symphonies Of Light
“If you’re new to the group, they combine dissonant tech-death like Ulcerate and Gorguts and fuse that with dissonant black metal and brutal death metal influences into a sound all its own. The songs they create from that framework are further developed around progressive and experimental tendencies that envelope Ingurgitating Oblivion’s pummeling nature with an air of grandiose sophistication, broken up with quirky jazz elements, and dark atmospheric layers.”
“While the band has frequently dabbled in long-form compositions on prior releases, all of Vision Wallows In Symphonies Of Light consists of lengthy multi-part songs. This makes for an album that’s structurally unique in the world of death metal. There is an ambitious and epic bend to the four lengthy intricate compositions the album is comprised of, the longest of which is the 22-minute opus, “A Mote Constitutes What To Me Is Not All, And Eternally All, Is Nothing”, comparable in a sense to the experience of hearing the multi-faceted and maze-like form of death metal found on last year’s incredible single-song Gorguts EP.”
13. Thantifaxath – Void Masquerading as Matter
Similar to Krallice, Thantifaxath are a rare gem in the black metal world. One that doesn’t fit in neatly with any sole branch of black metal, instead opting for a hybridized approach that draws from the past and present through a frenzied mixture of raw agony and rich eloquence. If you thought 2014’s Sacred White Noise was a mindfuck, Void Masquerading as Matter turns it up another notch and dives into an even deeper level of madness.
Many of the same disorienting songwriting approaches and riffing molds put forth on Sacred White Noise inform the delivery of the music here, but Void Masquerading as Matter is quite a different beast altogether. Once again, Thantifaxath have created laudable music that breathes and embodies all manner of dark and foul ideas and emotions, but for whatever reason, the twisted majesty of it all connects with me in a profound and unsettling way that few bands do.
12. Archspire – Relentless Mutation
Continually a heavily replayed favorite of mine ever since I found myself obsessed with their 2011 debut, All Shall Align, Archspire thrive on excess, and continues to do so even now. Unlike many of their ilk, they have a lot going on musically beyond just impressive speed and dexterous performances from each member, including a powerful songwriting prowess, a (dare I say) memorable “catchiness”, and a strong, well-crafted musical identity that’s only grown more distinct with each release.
I thought The Lucid Collective was a near-perfect record, so it was something of a surprise for me that the group found several different ways to up their game on Relentless Mutation. Even now, I’m still spinning Relentless Mutation multiple times a week and I’ll continue to do so deep into 2018. Stay Tech!
11. Artificial Brain – Infrared Horizon
“Like a lot of fans, I was deathly curious as to what Infrared Horizon would have to offer, and if it was capable of holding a candle to their prior masterpiece. The consensus seems to be clear, and I agree with it: Somehow the band has written a worthy successor that sees them pushing their sound in new directions, all the while still retaining much of what made Labyrinth Constellation so good. On Infrared Horizon, Artificial Brain continues their space-themed voyage, blasting into unknown worlds at the speed of light, adding just enough tweaks to their unique style of atmospheric, heavy, frequently brutal, and black-metal-influenced take on technical death metal to differentiate it from the last album.”
10. Exist – So True, So Bound
“Some of you may not know Exist, but its members have been actively involved in many of today’s best bands for a long time now, driving many sick groups forward in a behind-the-scenes way. The musical pedigree among the musicians in Exist is a portent of amazing things to come, and the music of Exist never fits comfortably in one genre or style; it simply exists as its own unique entity. Bad pun intended.”
“Throughout the dense yet sublime depths of So True, So Bound, Exist effortlessly shift between varied forms of prog metal and prog-death with a groove component added in. And every bit of it seems expertly filtered through a Cynic and Allan Holdsworth-style jazz fusion technical prog sensibility.”
9. Krallice – Loüm
The recent release of two new Krallice full-lengths upended some spots on my list, but alas, I could only find the time to dive into Loüm intensely prior to completing this. Though I’m sure Go Be Forgotten is just as deserving of a spot here as this is.
What is there to say about Krallice at this point that hasn’t been said? They’re consistently one of the best black metal bands on the planet, and the last few years seem to have shown them engaging in quite a few different stylistic switch-ups and tweaks, moving toward an even more refined sound that was already highly developed as it was, and culminating in arguably the most ferocious, technical, and demented Krallice release yet on Loüm.
It also serves as a collaboration effort, with Neurosis bassist Dave Edwardson taking a key role on this album as both main vocalist and contributor of synth layers as well. Given that vocals always seemed to me to be Krallice’s sole less-than-outstanding aspect of their music, I welcome the focused and different vocals present on this album and the different vibe they give off as well.
Loüm is further proof that Krallice has no ceiling in sight, no point at which they can’t top themselves again. They’ll simply morph into ever stranger permutations of their brilliant signature deconstruction of black metal moving forward, just as they’ve done with each re-invention of themselves over many years.
8. Virulent Depravity – Fruit of the Poisoned Tree
“While certainly not a clone of Spawn of Possession, Virulent Depravity’s music often reminds me of the almighty SOP in terms of the style of tech-death performed, and also in regard to the sheer maze-like density of the songs on Fruit of the Poisoned Tree. There’s also a pinch of groove woven into some of the riffs and passages, subtly reminding me of Psycroptic and Soreption, though it’s not done in the same way as those bands, nor as often. To these ears, I also detect an Anata-ish sense of melody at times too, though that might just be me. Much like last year’s First Fragment record, Fruit of the Poisoned Tree is a tour-de-force of world class shred riffing, endless scorching solos, and speed-addled demise delivered in a complex and mind-boggling way.”
7. Coma Cluster Void – Thoughts From A Stone
“In 2016, Coma Cluster Void put out their debut album Mind Cemeteries, a release that was one of my absolute favorites of the entire year. More so, it was one of the strongest and most memorable debuts I’ve heard from a death metal band in the modern era. The band has a unique and stark take on technical death metal, one that is both ultra-dissonant and ultra-heavy while incorporating a sense of controlled chaos that is unlike anything else you’ve ever heard. Now only a year later, Coma Cluster Void is back with Thoughts From A Stone, a sprawling twenty-one-minute-long (and some change) single composition split into six chapters.”
“Thoughts From A Stone is an incredibly dark and powerful piece of music, one that defies conventional norms in favor of mind-melting sonic exploration. To these ears, Thoughts From A Stone further cements the band’s status as one of the most innovative groups active in death metal right now.”
6. Pyrrhon – What Passes For Survival
“What Passes For Survival is yet another laudable and intriguing release from a band who continue to push their own boundaries and limits, and those of death metal as well, with their eclectic and cacophonic approach to deconstructing the genre and re-envisioning it in a litany of bold new forms. Every time someone tries to yell about how new death metal is boring, all I can think of is how wrong they are, because bands like Pyrrhon exist, and are doing amazing things that deserve to be praised and pointed to as a notable example of forward-thinking death metal in the modern era.”
5. Dodecahedron – Kwintessens
“Back in 2012, Tilburg, Netherlands natives Dodecahedron came out of nowhere and dropped a rightly revered self-titled album, one that was far ahead of the curve for black metal at the time as well. When you release a black metal album as forward-thinking and nightmare-inducing as Dodecahedron, where exactly does one go from there?
“It’s a bit of a long answer since the band write such complex and dynamic songs, but basically the music they’ve come up with on Kwintessens hits even darker, while frequently dropping into lighter and oddly calming flourishes as well. A lot of new elements are at play here, and it’s also a slightly trimmer effort at 41 minutes versus their self-titled album, which was 52 minutes long. Simultaneously more deranged, yet also littered with a stronger prog influence and an influx of heavy grooves to their arsenal, the album also includes some grind-gone-technical black metal moments that caught me off guard.”
6. Sutrah – Dunes
“In essence, what you get on Dunes is a band crossbreeding the more atmospheric and atonal side of technical death metal like Gorguts and Ulcerate with more conventional influences like Beyond Creation, mixed with some progressive death metal elements that remind me of the legendary group Martyr. The combined sum is composed on an epic scale; the sheer scope and weight of the mammoth-sized tracks here are astounding to behold.”
“Dunes is an ambitious release, frequently jaw-dropping and mesmerizing, and definitely one of the more impressive debut albums I’ve heard from an up-and-coming act in awhile.”
3. Gigan – Undulating Waves of Rainbiotic Iridescence
“Since their inception over a decade ago, Gigan has delivered one of the most memorable and creative discographies of any modern tech-death band around. Across three previous full-lengths and their debut EP, the group has created a unique and singular style of technical death metal that’s completely alien and bizarre in the best way possible, and one which runs circles around damn near 99% of what’s out there. Given that, their new fourth album, Undulating Waves of Rainbiotic Iridescence was on a very short list of my most-anticipated releases for all of 2017. While I’m not surprised at how good the album is, I am happy that the band continues to find ways to push their sound forward this far into their career.”
2. Bufihimat – I
“The band has a unique sound, owing as much to grindcore and mathcore as it does various strains of technical death metal. The end result comes across like a frenetic merger between Cryptopsy, Wormed, Maruta, early chaotic Dillinger Escape Plan and Psyopus, Origin, and Cattle Decapitation, paired with a touch of unearthly blackened dissonance worming its way in at the same time. If the result of that kind of fusion between different styles sounds like unhinged stuff, you’ve come to the right conclusion. And that will certainly play into whether you enjoy this, or find it to be too caustic for your own tastes. Throughout the eight dense tracks on I, you will be subjected to endless torment, and I suspect its ceaseless mania will cause more than a few minds to cave in automatically upon hearing it.”
1. Cleric – Retrocausal
“…the rightful spiritual heir to Mr. Bungle and Secret Chiefs 3, endlessly explorative and capable of churning out incomprehensibly dense and eclectic compositions that sound like nothing else out there.”
“Retrocausal is an experience on a high plateau all its own, an hour-and-fourteen-minute-long journey largely comprised of multiple nine-to-thirteen-minute-long massive compositions that are so far removed from how 99% of the music you hear is constructed and unfurls, that it’s much better heard than explained. Hell, even the shorter songs on Retrocausal encompass more ideas in a single piece than is easily digested and remembered even ten spins later. There’s no doubt it will be “too much” for some, but for those of us who like our metal adventurous, unorthodox, and breathtakingly ambitious, Cleric deliver heaven in metallic audio form on Retrocausal.”
**If you really want to find more of what I felt was this year’s best obscure and or new band stuff across multiple genres, check out all of my 2017 NCS posts HERE and all of my Metal Injection technical death metal posts HERE