(“Conniption” is too weak a word, “kryptonite” is more in the ballpark [especially in the case of an album I reviewed here]. Every year Andy Synn breaches our general etiquette with this list, but after umpteen years, it’s too late to stop him.)
Every year I separate the albums I’ve heard into three separate categories – The Great, The Good, and The Disappointing – and every year Islander has a minor conniption when forced to confront all the caustic criticism and general lack of positivity going on in my Disappointing list.
It’s basically his kryptonite, so if you wanted to attack him while he’s in a weakened state… now would be the time.
That being said, I hope neither he, nor you, feel like I’m being prejudiced or unfair with what you’re about to read.
As it happens I am (or, at least, have been) a big fan of pretty much all these bands, and the purpose of this particular column is not to attack or belittle them, or to make myself feel big or clever.
I just feel that, when summing up an entire year’s worth of music, it’s important to demonstrate some balance, and to confront those albums which, while I/we might have wished otherwise, simply didn’t live up to their potential.
And that, I suppose, is the best way to look at this list – these aren’t necessarily “bad” albums (though I’d argue that one or two of them aren’t particularly “good”), they’re just disappointing to those of us who know that the bands in question can do so much better.
Still, I’m sure some people who read this (though, thankfully, probably not our regulars) will probably ignore everything I’ve just written and skip straight on down to the comments section to impugn my intelligence, my manhood, and my personal hygiene just because I’ve not been nice about a certain band/album… and that’s entirely their prerogative.
But I’m hopeful that, as with previous years, we can all still get along well enough, even if we happen to disagree.
AKERCOCKE – RENAISSANCE IN EXTREMIS
Of course any hope I might have that we can all be decent and respectful of one another’s opinions might immediately have flown out of the window, as I know this is potentially a rather inflammatory and controversial selection.
But even though I’ve seen more than a few slightly sycophantic reviews of this album (in fact if you look on Metal Archives you’ll find that it currently has a whopping 95% rating) it feels like a lot of the praise it’s been getting is simply because it’s an Akercocke album… and not necessarily because it’s actually a particularly good Akercocke album.
Let me be clear – I am an Aker-fan myself, and both Choronzon and Words That Go Unspoken… in particular still get regular rotation from me. But it does seem like a lot of people were already primed to fawn all over this one long before they even heard a single note, and unwilling to even entertain the idea that it might not be the greatest thing ever.
For my own part, I think it’s overall a solid enough album, and I particularly enjoy the moments where the band go full-prog, as these are the times when the record becomes most interesting and unpredictable. But, when all is said and done, there’s an awful amount of filler material gumming up the works, and the heavier, riffier, parts in particular often feel rather uninspired.
ARCH ENEMY – WILL TO POWER
Why is this album here? It’s not because I hate the band (in fact, if you can remember as far back as 2014, you’ll recall that I was – and still am – a big fan of War Eternal), or because I resent their steadily increasing mainstream-crossover appeal… it’s because it’s just so goddamned formulaic and painfully, purposefully, unambitious.
No, I have zero problems with bands being successful. Heck, if I like a band, I want them to be successful. But Will to Power makes it painfully clear that Arch Enemy these days are pretty much the musical equivalent of a fast-food franchise, designed to sell as much highly processed, low nutrition “product” – all wrapped up in a suitably shiny and inoffensive package – to as many people as possible, with the bare minimum of effort.
Yes, there’s still some damn catchy hooks and lead parts, and even the occasional good riff, but the whole thing feels more like an exercise in Metal Marketing 101 than an attempt to make any sort of actual, meaningful artistic statement.
And don’t even get me started on the vapid, non-specifically “empowering” lyrics, which offer about as much depth and meaning as your average horoscope…
AZARATH – IN EXTREMIS
Though I have no major complaints about the sixth album by these Polish pulverisers, I also don’t really have any major praise for it either.
Because while Blasphemer’s Maledictions was one of the most underrated extreme gems of 2011, In Extremis makes it seem as though Azarath have spent the intervening years simply spinning their wheels.
I don’t hate it by any means, but this is the perfect example of a band who can do better (and have done so before), and hence why it’s a bit of a disappointment overall.
BLUT AUS NORD – DEUS SALUTIS MEAE
Historically Blut Aus Nord have been one of the most progressive, forward-thinking bands operating in the field of Black Metal… and beyond. Even when going “back to their roots” and revisiting the Memoria Vetusta concept (as they did first in 2009, and then again in 2014) they’ve always had a fresh and enlightening perspective to offer.
Whereas Deus Salutis Meae… doesn’t. It’s not a bad album by any means, and if this were your first encounter with Blut Aus Nord I can imagine you’d still be very much intrigued by what you hear, but overall it feels very much like a rehash and a re-tread of some very familiar themes, ones which the band have dealt with better, and rather comprehensively, before.
ENTHEOS – DARK FUTURE
The Infinite Nothing, the debut album by Entheos, was (and still is) something of an unsung gem of the Technical Death Metal scene, fusing some seriously intense and intricate riffing, coiled, complex bass-lines, and some rather stunning drumwork, with a plethora of atmospheric, ambient, and electronic elements, in a way which made the band stand head and shoulders above the competition.
Unfortunately, their follow-up (which, for a variety of reasons, the band are now touting as their “real” debut), while every bit as skillful and technically adept as its predecessor, seems to be missing something by comparison.
Whether it’s down to the unwelcome excess of interchangeably djenty riffs, the general aimlessness of the song-writing, or the absence of some other indefinable “x-factor”, Dark Future simply fails to differentiate itself from the rest of the pack, and finds the band in danger of going from “frontrunners” to “also-rans”.
GOATWHORE – VENGEFUL ASCENSION
While most bands would probably kill for an album as good as your average Goatwhore record… is average really what we’ve come to expect from Falgoust and co?
Because, truth be told, Vengeful Ascension is a surprisingly toothless affair, with none of the same fire or bite which fuelled their previous albums, and feels more like Goatwhore simply doing a passable impression of themselves.
All the pieces are still there, but the passion just doesn’t seem to be, making this one of the least impressive and – perhaps most damningly – least exciting albums of the band’s career.
HADAL MAW – OLM
This one was a real bummer for me, as I absolutely loved the band’s debut, Senium, and was incredibly excited when the group announced that they were aiming for a far more introspective, more atmospheric, and altogether more progressive way of doing things with their second album.
Unfortunately, while these are laudable aims, somewhere along the line they forgot to write any good songs.
Oh, there are some good parts scattered here and there, but they are largely fragmentary and disjointed… while the overall impression of the album I’m left with is one that’s surprisingly stale and sluggish, and sadly lacking in both energy and hooks.
It’s not terrible, by any means, but it’s certainly a disappointing second effort from a band with real promise and potential.
MYRKUR – MARERIDT
Just so we’re clear, my reason for including this album here has absolutely nothing to do with Amelie Bruun (aka Myrkur)’s rapid rise in popularity/infamy and everything to do with the fact that most of the songs just aren’t that good, or that memorable, aiming as they do for “epic”, but coming up empty instead.
Don’t get me wrong, I loved both her debut EP and album, and there are a handful of real gems on Mareridt too, but I am honestly flabbergasted (flummoxed, even) at the amount of people I’ve seen putting this on their “Best of 2017” lists, as the album as a whole is simply nowhere near as strong as either of her previous releases, and far too many of the tracks feel undercooked and unfinished, frequently seeming to… just… trail… off… as if Bruun and her cohorts were unable to come up with a fitting conclusion, and just decided to end things wherever they happened to be.
Forget all the (frankly rather ignorant) accusations of “falseness” – it seems to me that so many people are so afraid of being lumped in with Myrkur’s more self-righteous critics, that they’re willing to give the project a pass for some frankly rather underwhelming material.
NE OBLIVISCARIS – URN
How do I phrase this exactly? While I know a lot of people absolutely love everything the Aussie sextet have done (and I myself am still a fan of Portal of I), I can’t help but feel that both Citadel and Urn are the victims of diminishing returns, with the band’s signature brand of “Progressive Extremity” showing itself to be only superficially “Progressive” and not particularly “Extreme”.
I suppose my real beef here is just how oddly predictable and non-threatening the whole Ne Obliviscaris package has quickly become, with all the rough edges sanded down to a nice, safe, and easy-to-swallow smoothness.
Ultimately Urn feels like an album created by committee, carefully monitored and micro-managed so as to maximise its potential audience. It’s certainly very listenable, I won’t deny that (although it must be said, the band’s over-reliance on the vocals and violin of Tim Charles to provide their songs with some form of hook is becoming more and more obvious), but it’s also surprisingly tepid and inoffensive – never too aggressive, never too progressive, never too technical – and generally more style than substance in the end.
SUFFOCATION – …OF THE DARK LIGHT
If Suffocation had released this as an EP made up of only the very best tracks (“Clarity Through Deprivation”, “Return to the Abyss”, etc) then it would undoubtedly have been one of the very best EPs of the year.
Unfortunately, the plethora of filler here drags down …Of the Dark Light until it’s just a solid, and not a stellar, album, from one of Death Metal’s most well-respected acts.
And while I certainly expect a bit of flaming for placing this album on this list, I think, if we’re all being honest with ourselves, we know that while Suffocation are still capable of delivering the goods when they want to… this is one occasion where they’ve fallen more than a little bit short.
THE HAUNTED – STRENGTH IN NUMBERS
To explain this album’s inclusion here, allow me to quote from my review for Terrorizer:
“After a career defined as much by line-up and stylistic changes as it was by killer riffs, The Haunted’s 2014 comeback album seemed to signify that the band had finally settled into its own skin, and were ready to recapture some of the momentum that they’d lost over the years.
It’s unfortunate then that so much of the material here is so depressingly “average” and overly-familiar in nature.
The execution is top-notch of course, and the second half (beginning with the fist-pumping title-track) has a few pearls worth shucking out, but with all the talent and experience at their disposal, it’s hard not to think that The Haunted can do much better than this.”
So there you have it. Eleven albums which, overall, left me with the sour taste of disappointment this year. You may agree. You may disagree. You may not have read any of what I’ve written and be wondering how the hell you got here.
But whatever the case, I’d love to hear your thoughts on what albums you honestly felt didn’t live up to their potential this year or, conversely, what albums actually surprised you by being much better than you expected.
See, there’s room for positivity even here!
I love the new Arch Enemy. I had low expectations for it, figuring it would more of the same with songs yhat were indistinguishable from one another. But I was very surprised and I ended up enjoying more than any of their previous releases, and the clean singing was done in a way that sounds right at home with their other songs.
While the new Suffocation was nothing exceptional, I still enjoyed it very much 🙂
You went too easy on this year!
Benighted – Necrobreed
Dodecahedron – Kwintessens
Artificial Brain – Infrared Horizon
Uneven Structure – La Partition
Shadow Of Intent – Reclaimer
Tau Cross – Pillar Of Fire
Primitive Man – Caustic
Street Sects – Rat jacket
Toehider – “Good”
Altarage – Endinghent
Complete Failure – Crossburner
The Faceless – In Becoming A Ghost
Diablo Swing Orchestra – Pacifisticuffs
You’re 100% correct about Ne Obliviscaris. You should really go on the offensive more often; the flaws you note with Urn are very apt.
Weird seeing Artificial Brain and Tau Cross on that list, I really liked those two. Well all hail subjectivity I guess.
Whoa whoa whoa. Pacifisticuffs owns. There’s really no metal in this one, but it’s great for what it is.
Pacifisticuffs needs time.
There are some disposable tracks, but once you get used to the vocals the background details set in.
Exactly. I think that’s been true of many (if not all) of their albums – they need a bit of time to digest. Usually by the 5th or 6th time through I can’t stop listening. I’ve never ultimately been disappointed by their work, and for me Pacifisticuffs has been no exception.
I listened to Ne Obliviscaris’ new album once when it was streaming in full. In part I haven’t gone back to it because I haven’t had time, but I guess that in itself probably also tells me that I wasn’t too fussed to miss out.
Great list (as always) Andy, but do you not think some of these albums will show their true worth with subsequent listens? We’re so saturated with music now that it’s suffocating and I think that we don’t always give albums time to breath. The other nagging problem is always comparing to what’s come before. It’s utterly inevitable, we’re going to always do that, but I’m finding (maybe because I’m becoming an fossilised relic) that you gain more when you appreciate a body of work as it’s own entity, unless it’s deliberately meant to be part of a series. I also know that you’ll discover more from these albums as the days, months and years pass, being a reviewer can be so overwhelming innit?
I want to like ENTHEOS because the cover art is so damn cool but the album just fucking sucks, or at least to me it does.
Damn, Akercocke, NeO, and Myrkur all on this list? I would expect El Cuervo at your door any minute now.
For what it’s worth I don’t know where this Myrkur thing came from – I think she’s alright but never written a great album.
For NeO I get that they’re quite divisive and I cba to have this debate again.
I wholeheartedly disagree on Akercocke though. As a young ‘un it was my first Akercocke record and I love it. I’ve gone back through and love Words / Deeds too but this one is so effortlessly cool.
And on the camel front, my Camel post is upcoming so you can have your feast then.
Much as it pains me, I’d have to add Incantation’s “Profane Nexus” to this list…
Most of these I wouldn’t call disappointing because I have low expectations from them to begin with. Your write up of Arch Enemy especially, is completely on point.
The Haunted have always been less than the sum of their parts.
Myrkur was overrated from day one. I never thought she was bad, but…and I never say this about bands, ever…the fact that she was a one woman black metal band, who was angering all the “trve” metalheads, was always way more important to reviewers than actually critiquing her music. Nothing has changed with this release.
Gonna have to agree with ya on Incantation. But I must say, I’ve found every Incantation album since Diabolical Conquest to be rather underwhelming
Decimate Christendom, Vanquish in Vengeance, and Dirges of Elysium were all strong releases. Not as good as their best but definitely way above average
I completely agree with Andy’s sentiments regarding Urn. I very much enjoy that album, and remain a huge Ne Obliviscaris fan, but if they keep pumping out more stuff like Urn that might change. Portal of I was a riff machine. Citadel was adventurous. Urn is safe. And the fact that Ne Obliviscaris seem to have really rocketed in popularity, while at the same time trying to lock themselves into a crowdfunding financing method, while at the safe time putting out a very safe, “accessible” album has warning lights flashing all over my mind. Also, they really need to find a better engineer because Urn sounds way overproduced to me and I’m not even a huge audiophile/production nerd.
Ideally, their Patreon schtick leaves them beholden to no one and therefore more able to experiment and push their own musical boundaries. But the cynical part of me thinks maybe they’ve put themselves in a position where they’re calculating what they need to do to maximize their fanbase and therefore their Patreon subscribers because they hadn’t quite met their pledge goals yet, and that genuine artistic expression is relegated to a secondary concern. I sincerely hope that I’m wrong, and if someone from the band is reading this know that I still love you guys, and I’m only being super critical here because I have such high expectations and hold Ne Oliviscaris in such high regard!
This is well said. I like the album better than Andy, but criticisms like “safe” and “predictable” are pretty spot on. Urn is not the sound of a band pushing its limits, and songs from both Portal of I and Citadel are so much more memorable.
I’m surprised how little I find myself coming back to Urn already.
I would add Shores of Null. Their debut was massive and I had high hopes for the new album, but it just never takes off. It’s an OK album, not bad, but these guys can do better.
That Akercocke record is definite proof that I don’t want the shared members with Voices to waste their time with Akercocke ever again. London is one of the great progressive metal records of the decade, and these boys are wasting our time with this shit?
Having never listened to Akercocke before, this new album wasn’t on my radar at all. I had recently read some really good things about it, though, so I was looking forward to checking it out soon. I was surprised to see it listed here, though, and with a tantalizing comment like this I’m thinking that maybe I just should just check out “London” instead! As an avid fan of all things “progressive,” I’m wondering when I missed the memo on Voices (or older Akercocke for that matter).
I absolutely love the new Akercocke, it’s number 3 on my top ten for this year. But, it’s not the best Akercocke release. Words That Go Unspoken, Deeds That Go Undone and Chorozon are both better albums, but RiE is a helluva record too. If you are an avid fan of all things “progressive” this would really be the Akercocke release to check out though, it’s much more progressive than anything they’ve released before, and more accessible too.
As far as London goes, it’s my favorite album of the 2010s. It’s a violent, terrifying album that is more disturbing than any other musical release I’ve ever heard. If that sounds fascinating to you, check it out! I really can’t recommend it enough.
I have to admit it’s been a rough metal year for me. There’s been a bunch of disappointments and too few great albums as far as my tastes go. You hit a few of mine and nailed the reasons.
I love the track Chorea Macchabeorum, but otherwise the new BAN is not very captivating. It feels like a lesser version of other albums. And I’ve really enjoyed the previous releases from Myrkur, but Mareridt just doesn’t do anything for me.
The most painful letdown for me is Emptiness. They’re one of my favorite bands so I don’t want to admit it, but Not for Music is not amazing. It has some good tracks and some meh ones, and I like it enough, but it doesn’t hold a candle to Nothing but the Whole, and I was expecting them to hand me my ass yet again.
Reluctantly, I have to agree with you about the new Emptiness. Perhaps my expectations were too high based on Nothing But the Whole (and they were in fact very damned high), but they weren’t met by the new album.
Yeah, they set their own bar ridiculously high.
I feel like I should add that one of the things I respect about them is that they push in whatever direction they want without any apparent regard for anyone else. I think this lands squarely in the territory of that post from a while back of bands that innovate, stagnate, push too far, and not far enough. They push far, and I don’t want them to stop. I just selfishly want them to push in directions I can follow. But regardless, I’m still looking forward to wherever they go next.
I feel this way about Enslaved’s E. I bought it on the first day. Got through it once, and haven’t listened to it again. Just didn’t feel like it had anything that needed re-visiting. One particular gripe is the prog thing. And that’s not to say I’m against prog, but I just don’t feel that prog is that progressive when you’re only revisiting the distant past, that is King Crimson, Floyd, Genesis type stuff. Also, it didn’t really feel like they’ve added anything to the equation. They’ve don’t black metal before, they’ve done 1970’s prog before, so I guess I feel like I’ve already heard it???? Maybe it’s time for Enslaved to start looking forward, rather than backwards. On the other hand, I did listen to a lot of thrash this year. And thrash isn’t exactly paving new paths with gold. One thing I particularly enjoyed about thrash this year, is its sense of recklessness. This is definitely missing in Death Metal. Everybody’s albums are starting to sound samey, with re-amped guitars and triggered drums. Sure they can shred, sure it’s heavy and ominous, but where’s the danger? I doesn’t sound like it’s going to jump the tracks, to calculated. That being said, I enjoyed Artificial Brain and just found Bufihimat. Something I like about both of these albums is I just don’t understand what they are doing. It’s baffling what’s coming out of their guitars. Awesome!
Enslaved and Satyricon are my two biggest disappointments
Honestly, the last time Satyricon didn’t disappoint, I was in college
Ah, now to watch the concept of “Taste is Suggestive” be cast aside and for people to defend their tastes…
But, in all sincerity, I agree with a lot of your list. Especially Blut aus Nord. I am a HUGE BAN fan, and I have every. single. release. on CD. I didn’t even purchase this one. I streamed it 3 times and haven’t returned. Yes, people are saying it’s “trance-inducing” and whatnot, but it only seems to have that affect because, believe it or not, the entire record is played at the same tempo. There’s just not enough variation or experimentation in a project that is normally defined by those terms. It’s just a rehash of some ideas from the 777 series/Memoria Vetusta(kind of), but tamed down and repeated over and over.
Also, I felt exactly that way about the new Suffocation album. There are maybe 2 or 3 songs I enjoyed, the rest is generic and boring.
On Arch Enemy….I’ll just leave it at I haven’t enjoyed anything they’ve come out with in 10 years or more. It’s Power Metal re-labeled as Melodic Death Metal and literally has no other purpose than to expose someone to harsh vocals who maybe hasn’t made that transition yet. I don’t know, I just can’t stand how they basically sell it as a “hardcore female fronted band”, and it sounds like music that would have such a label.
I disagree slightly on Goatwhore, just because I find this release to be slightly more engaging than their last(again, just my opinion). But it definitely doesn’t hold up to the albums that came before.
I can listen to Urn, but then I have to listen to Portal of I to follow up. It does seem like NeO watered down a bit.
Anyways, I apologize if anyone actually read all of this self-indulgent banter, but great article, nontheless!
Agree on Hadal Maw, loved the first one and could not get into the second.
Even more of a bummer was Contrarian. Enjoyed the first album, and 2nd should of been even better because the songs were amazing musicianship but ultimately ruined by the large change in vocals.
Agreed about Contrarian. Polemic was phenomenal and my expectations were sky high for their new one. All around disappointment
Your list is amazing. I love Akercocke but like the Azarath, i listened, and listened and then i didn’t. I haven’t played the Akercocke in a long time. I don’t care about it, like a lot of releases here. Not the biggest Blut Aus Nord fan but this record has nothing going for it. It’s a mess of cavernous effects, weird vocals…boring. Creepy, scary, harrowing even, maybe, but ultimately a bore. I have replaced Azarath with Shaarimoth on Play, which has hung in there most of the year. Lantern seems to have the most plays of anything i bought in 17, go figure~!
I’ll admit that I never listened to much Akercocke before the new album, but I flat-out love it. The solos alone are worth the price of admission. (I made a sample-collage with only the solos strung together, lol.) And although some of the vocals put me off at first–I’ll lose all my indie cred for saying this, but I don’t like Scott Walker–the hooks are really there for me. Maybe cause I grew up on a lot of prog? Whatever, I still think that album rules. Well written piece, though; looking forward to reading about you liked, and checking that out as well.
You ignorant, girly, unwashed blasphemer…….GOATWHORE!!!
Had to do it 😉
I waited patiently… I knew it would come… 🙂
This one is more like… goatwhore?
Greetings everyone. Sorry I’ve not had time to reply to every single comment, but I just wanted to say how much I appreciate all the responses (even those of you who, misguidedly, seem to disagree with me) and how everyone’s been engaging with this piece, and with each other, in such a decent manner.
I salute the courage of this column. I wholeheartedly agree on the Myrkur issue.
Enslaved are going to be in Chicago next February which I have every intention of going to see. Myrkur are one of the openers so I figured I’d give Mareridt a shot since I haven’t gotten around to checking out any of her previous stuff. I agree with most of what’s been said about it, and I was pretty underwhelmed, as well. There’s a few songs that I’m sure I’ll come back to, like Elleskudt and The Serpent, but overall I’m giving it a meh. On a positive note, I think there’s tremendous potential in what Myrkur is doing. If she can improve her songwriting such as better integrating the folkier elements with the metal elements, or fleshing out songs a little more, I think she could create something really powerful in the future.
Your comments on Blut Aus Nord are very accurate, no new ground covered, but still love the sound.
I respectfully disagree on the Blut Aus Nord. I think it’s fantastic, and just because he’s been so progressive and cutting edge shouldn’t mean he should ALWAYS have to be. I do agree on the Myrkur – just very bland. Very disappointing. Same with the Suffocation. And Goatwhore is neat because they’re called Goatwhore, but they’ve always been disappointing musically, IMO.
I agree with almost all of your choices–except, I really personally did enjoy the Akercocke and Suffocation albums. The Akercocke song, “Insentience”, I have probably listened to no less than forty times since the August release date of the album. And I’ll admit, I’m totally a devoted fan boy of Suffocation–always have, and probably always will be. I honestly did like “…Of The Dark Light” better than “Penacles of Bedlam”, though.
I do comprehend the disappointment in the Ne Obliviscaris album, considering when compared to their others, it seemed as though they were progressing to a higher altitude of talent and challenging themselves. Once they produced “Urn”, it seems like they just wanted to replicate and perpetuate a similar sound to “Citadel”. However, perhaps the focus on Charles’s violin passages and clean singing is just an experiment and not a permanent fixture to appear in future music.
There were a few other albums you didn’t mention that I was disappointed in, that I may return to this thread in the very near future to establish, but one in particular that really hurt was Decrepit Birth’s new album. I feel that, less emphasis was placed on the beautiful melodies Decrepit Birth is known for (throughout “Diminishing Between Worlds” and “Polarity”, that is) and lead guitar passages in general, and more attention was placed on exemplifying the vocals and the rhythm riffs. The album did barely make my favorites list–it does include some very nice technically-inclined solos and pieces, just not as many as I like to hear in their music. Hopefully, it won’t be another seven-year dormancy before new material releases.