(This is the third installment in Andy Synn’s annual series reflecting on the year in metal, and in this one you’ll find his personal list of the year’s “Good” albums.)
Like most things, the year’s releases can generally be graded on a standard Bell Curve, with the majority of them occupying that vast central space we call “Good”.
Some of these albums are, of course, very good indeed, and there are more than a few entries here which could legitimately be argued to belong on my “Great” list… however, where there was any question or doubt I made the decision to err on the side of caution, and include them here instead.
Of course you’re also free to argue that some of the albums on the lower end of the scale might potentially have been included in yesterday’s “Disappointing” column (just as you might contend that some of those entries from yesterday deserved to be here instead) but, in general, I’ve found that even the lesser entries found here tended to be solidly enjoyable enough that I couldn’t honestly rate them as a disappointment.
But, as I said at the beginning of my EPs list last week – even though they’re separated out into three categories, my “Great”, “Good”, and “Disappointing” lists aren’t really ranked in the same way as most End of Year lists tend to be (which is why I get away with producing so many of them each year). They’re intended more as an extensive round-up of the wide variety of material which I’ve encountered over the last twelve months, so that you, our readers, can potentially discover something which you might otherwise have missed.
And, in service to that, at the very bottom of this column you’ll find an alphabetical list linking you, wherever possible, to each artist/album’s Bandcamp page. I hope that helps.
Now, before we get into the nitty-gritty of things (and you might want to stop, go to the bathroom and/or get a snack now, because this is going to be a looooong list) I want to name a few artists/albums which you won’t be seeing here or on tomorrow’s “Great” list… mostly because I simply didn’t get around to listening to them, and I don’t want anyone to be surprised or upset when they’re not included (although doubtless there’ll be some people who don’t read this, and spend unnecessary time complaining in the comments… c’est la vie…).
First off, I wasn’t able to give Pyrrhon or Pallbearer a listen in time, so hopefully you’ll forgive their absence, nor did I get round to checking out Full of Hell, Dodecahedron, or Artificial Brain… and for that I sincerely apologise.
You won’t be seeing Converge or Code Orange either, as the former have (for whatever reason) never connected with me as a listener, and the latter didn’t grab my attention enough beyond that first listen to encourage me to delve any deeper. I’m sure they’re both great in their own right, obviously, but neither one is really for me.
Zeal and Ardor won’t be making an appearance either, because it was originally released (and covered here) last year (and was massively overrated then too), but I am somewhat gutted not to have had a chance to listen to the new Integrity or the new Vallenfyre, as I’ve heard nothing but great things about both albums.
Obviously there are going to be a lot more albums I have missed out on this year, but those, at least, are some of the more notable names which you won’t be seeing here.
And now, without further ado, the mammoth list of every album I thought did a good (if not quite “great”) job this year!
2017 was a very good year for Death Metal in all shapes, sizes, colours, and creeds, to the extent where there are a lot of releases I’m aware of that were more than worthy of appearing here (and on tomorrow’s list, but which I simply didn’t get time to listen to.
Of those which I did manage to spend time with, the most famous/infamous was probably Kingdoms Disdained by the legendary Morbid Angel, who made an impressive (though by no means flawless) comeback with their tenth full-length album which, while by no means their best work, still did a lot of good towards repairing the damage to their reputation following That Which Will Not Be Named…
Sticking with the living legends for a moment, both Cannibal Corpse and Incantation put out some solid new material this year, as did the resurgent God Dethroned (finally completing the trilogy of albums which began with 2009’s Passiondale) while – on the opposite end of the scale – debut albums from the likes of Winds of Leng, Ulsect, and Suffering Hour demonstrated that the new breed are just as proficient in snapping necks and cracking skulls.
Also, please don’t sleep on Renascentia by Earth Rot or Return to the Void by Execration, as they’re both a brilliant display of how to seamlessly mix Old School and New School vibes in one ferociously filthy package.
Morbid Angel weren’t the only band to recover some of their mojo this year, as both Hate and Septic Flesh kicked things up a notch with Tremendum and Codex Omega, both of which helped wash away the disappointing aftertaste left by their predecessors, while hopefully Stygian – although not a world-beater – will finally let The Modern Age Slavery shed the Deathcore tag which they’ve been (somewhat inaccurately) lumped with for so long.
Speaking of issues with genres/sub-genres, those uncategorisable übermensch in The Monolith Deathcult continued to defy convention with their latest slab of Supreme Avant-Garde Death Metal menace, and German Egyptophiles Maat continued to feed the debate about whether they’re best referred to as a Technical, or Brutal, or Technical Brutal, Death Metal band with their second album Monuments Will Enslave.
I found both the cavernous cacophony of Tchornobog and the angular atmospherics of Ingurgitating Oblivion to be a tad overrated in some circles (the latter in particular sticks a little too close to the Gorguts formula in places in my opinion), but both albums still bring a lot to the table, as do both the new albums by Deserted Fear and Dreaming Dead, even if neither is likely to be challenging for any major titles any time soon.
On the techier end of the scale, The Faceless finally got round to releasing their new album, which was half killer, and half filler (although the killer stuff really was great), as did Enfold Darkness, whose long-awaited second album Adversary Omnipotent would have probably scraped into my “Great” list if it didn’t feel so overstuffed. It turns out sometimes less actually is more.
The new albums from Beneath, and Profanity went surprisingly underappreciated this year, as far as I can tell anyway, as did the deviously dissonant debut from Order ov Riven Cathedrals and proggier, more enigmatic releases from Contrarian and Fractal Universe.
Both Raster Density and Your Chance to Die put out probably their best work yet in Mother of Mankind and Ex Nihilo respectively, while Origin didn’t quite manage to equal their best with Unparalleled Universe, but still provided some suitably brutal and ballistic thrills and spills all the same.
And, finally, three of my favourite new discoveries – Abscission, Redemptor, and Incarnator – all succeeded in giving my brain a seriously twisted, technical workout this year, and I urge you all to do whatever it takes to check out their work asap.
On the Deathcore side of things both Aversion’s Crown and The Kennedy Veil put out some competently crushing new releases this year, although the news cycle was understandably dominated by Fit For An Autopsy and their impressive fourth album The Great Collapse, whereas on the Grindcore end my attention was only really captured by Leng Tch’e’s Razorgrind and Prognathe’s unexpectedly fun (and furious) We’re Sane.
On top of all this, you also had bands like Belphegor, Svart Crown, Altarage, Tehom, and Tongues (who also throw a hefty helping of Doom into the mix) blurring and bludgeoning the line between Death and Black Metal until it practically ceased to exist (and were all the better for it).
Of course just because this was, arguably, a more Death Metal year, it doesn’t mean that the Black Metal scene didn’t have its own fair share of contenders, with Acherontas, Death Fortress, Celeste, and Wolves In The Throne Room all putting out albums which (in my opinion at least) teetered right on the edge of greatness.
Icelandic Black Metal was well-represented (as always) this year, with new records from Auðn, Dynfari, and Draugsol all making waves… with the latter being my personal pick of the bunch.
And, talking of personal favourites, new releases from Merrimack, Israthoum, Ofermod, and Schattenfall all proved to be some of my favourite Black Metal albums of the year, even if they all fell just shy of true greatness in my opinion (though I still haven’t fully made up my mind about Sol Nox in that regard).
The new Wiegedood, and Nidingr albums were also really good, but didn’t quite live up to the extremely high standards set by their predecessors, while the new Limbonic Art, Svartsyn, Taake, and Nargaroth albums all demonstrated that there’s life in the old guard yet!
On the other hand, the new breed was also well-represented this year – with albums from Au Champ Des Morts, Heir, and Wrath From Above all standing out to me – as was the more Atmospheric side of Black Metal, with Falls of Rauros, Isenordal, Pure Wrath, and Rosk all putting out some really good work this year.
On the weirder end of the scale, the punk-ish DSBM of Fäulnis got more than a few pulses racing this year, as did Hetroertzen’s latest piece of blackened esoterica, although neither of those were as shamelessly weird and wonderful as Fjoergyn genre-splicing Lvcifer Es.
Sticking to the odd and unpredictable side of things, Progenie Terrestre Pura continued to delve the outer limits of Black Metal with oltreLuna, while The Clearing Path abandoned the more intensely atmospheric style of their previous works in favour of a more off-kilter, more angular approach.
And, speaking of new approaches, the new EP/album (it’s unclear to me how to categorise this one) by Schammasch saw the group exploring some strange and unusual new sonic textures to great effect.
Of course no discussion of the more enigmatic end of the Black Metal spectrum is complete without mentioning Krallice, who put out two damn fine releases this year in the shape of Loüm and Go Be Forgotten, cementing themselves as one of the most creative and unpredictable bands operating on the scene today.
And while arguments will no doubt continue over whether the new albums by Lascar, Laster, Grauzeit, Hands That Lift The Oceans, and Violet Cold are really Black Metal… they’re still all really fucking good.
Although I don’t think we’ll be having any such arguments about the obvious merits of Black Thrash disciples Degotten, Sarke, or Weregoat, will we?
If we’re going to mention the word “Thrash” then we have to mention Witchery too, even though I Am Legion never quite reaches the same heights as its predecessor, nor should we ignore the many killer cuts found on Machine Messiah, which found Sepultura continuing to forge their own path, regardless of what anyone else might think of them.
NCS-faves Darkest Hour bounced back from the mediocre misstep of their self-titled album with what was probably their angriest, thrashiest, and most aggressive album in years, while both reformed Melodeath marauders Desultory and Indian genre-weavers Demonic Resurrection also produced what are quite probably their best albums yet.
Sticking to the more melodic side of things, the third Anomalie album was only a hair shy of greatness itself, as was the third Wolfheart album, and the debut by A Flourishing Scourge certainly showed a lot of promise too.
The instantly recognisable riffs and vocals of Communic made Where Echoes Gather an intriguing, if uneven, listen, though I’d say that both Heretoir and Vattnet put together more complete and coherent (if similarly divisive) slabs of melancholy Prog-Metal this year. And although the sixth Sólstafir album wasn’t the band’s best work, it’s proved to be a real slow-burner that has steadily grown in my affections as the months have passed by.
Hard to classify acts like Archivist, Atriarch, Emptiness, and Bloodway put out some really good stuff this year too, as did more straightforward, riff-heavy bands such as Tau Cross, Neck of the Woods, Planet Eater, and Treyharsh – all of whom you should check out if you’re in the mood for some heavy, high-voltage thrills.
The proggy sphere was well-served by new albums from Pain of Salvation and Persefone, either of which might have made my “Great” list if they’d not felt so oddly disjointed, and the doomier among us will no doubt have delighted in the plethora of morose and melancholy metallic hymns which were released this year, from the resolute Hamartia by Novembers Doom, to the grandiose storytelling of 1755 by Moonspell, to the magnificently gloomy strains of Hexer’s Cosmic Doom Ritual… not to mention the striking and evocative Post Metal power provided by acts like Timeworn, Oceanwake, Kerala, and Glare of the Sun.
And then, apropos of nothing, there were the unexpectedly bold and fearless comeback albums by Eighteen Visions and Life of Agony, both of which more than justified the near endless patience of those of us who kept the faith over the years.
Last, but by no means least, the UK contingent was amply represented this year, particularly when it comes to more the more Old-School friendly forms of extremity, with the grim and gritty Death Metal of Blasphemer, Overoth, Subservience, and Vacivus all putting in a very good showing indeed, as did the bombastic riffosity delivered by Horrified, Craven Idol, King Leviathan, and Ancient Ascendant.
Speaking of riffs, the more modern Death Metal stylings of Krysthla and Chaos Trigger all brought some impressive gallops and grooves to the table, as did the proggy stylings of the NCS-approved Pteroglyph and the even proggier Synaptik.
Some ‘core friendly brutality was provided by A Trust Unclean, Nihility, and Shattered Horizons – all of whom you should check out if you’re a fan of big, brawny riffs and even bigger, beefier breakdowns – while the darker, doomier end of the scale was well covered too, with Coltsblood and The Crawling in particular bringing some mightily morbid melancholy to bear.
On the Black Metal side of things both Fen and Wode put out some pretty killer material this year – although I felt like the latter was a bit of a step down from their debut – as did Vehement and Mountains Crave (both of whom I’m glad to have covered here at NCS this year), while multi-national London-based berserkers Calligram put out an album that very nearly made it onto my “Great” list with Askesis.
And though it may not strictly be Black Metal, Homecoming by Sorrow Plagues has still taken up pretty regular residence in my listening rotation.
On top of all this, outliers like the modernised Thrash-core of From Eden to Exile, the proggy Instru-Metal of Telepathy, the brooding sludgery of Watchcries, and the shameless riffmongery of The Darkhorse all kicked a solid amount of ass too!
So there you have it. The full, alphabetised list of “Good” albums can be found below and, where possible, I’ve also provided a link to the album’s Bandcamp page too.
Tomorrow… the top of the range, the cream of the crop, the albums from 2017 which I thought were truly “Great”!
Ancient Ascendant – Raise the Torch
Aversion’s Crown – Xenocide
Belphegor – Totenritual
Communic – Where Echoes Gather
Deserted Fear – Dead Shores Rising
Eighteen Visions – XVIII
Fit For An Autopsy – The Great Collapse
From Eden to Exile – Modern Disdain
Glare of the Sun – Soil
Krysthla – Peace In Our Time
Life of Agony – A Place Where There’s No More Pain
Limbonic Art – Spectre Abysm
Maat – Monuments Will Enslave
Morbid Angel – Kingdoms Disdained
Novembers Doom – Hamartia
Origin – Unparalleled Universe
Pain of Salvation – In The Passing Light of Day
Sepultura – Machine Messiah
Svart Crown – Abreaction
The Darkhorse – The Carcass of the Sun Will Sleep
The Faceless – In Becoming A Ghost
Witchery – I Am Legion
Wolfheart – Tyhjyys
Your Chance To Die – Ex Nihilo