(“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!